This portion of the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft, called the cruise stage, will do its work during the flight between Earth and Mars after launch in the fall of 2011.
For example, it will provide propulsion for maneuvers to adjust the spacecraft's trajectory, and its solar panels will provide electricity for the spacecraft during the flight. The cruise stage will be jettisoned before the capsule containing the descent stage and rover enters the Martian atmosphere.
The Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft is being assembled and tested for launch in 2011.
This image was taken at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., which manages the Mars Science Laboratory Mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology.