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Stephen Colbert offers a tip of the hat to NASA's Mars Rover (+video)

NASA administrator and veteran astronaut John Grunsfeld appeared on the Colbert Report on Wednesday, where he discussed the planned landing of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover, which is scheduled to land on the Red Planet on Sunday night. 

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"That's faster than NBC can tell us what's happening in London. That's impressive," Colbert joked, referring to ongoing complaints among TV viewers in the United States about NBC's tape-delayed coverage of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England.

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NASA's Curiosity rover, which will carry a suite of 10 instruments with it to the Red Planet, is designed to search for evidence that Mars has (or ever had) an environment suitable to sustain microbial life. It is the most ambitious robotic planetary mission the agency has attempted to date.

"This is the first mission where we've sent an organic chemistry laboratory to the surface of Mars," Grunsfeld said.

While Curiosity is not specifically designed to spot aliens, Colbert and Grunsfeld both agreed that if life is ever found on Mars, it will be an Earth-shattering discovery.

"It makes you wonder," Colbert said with a smile. "Genesis. It wasn't until the fourth day that God created any living creatures. And then on the fifth day, it was animals, and the sixth day it was man, and then it said on the seventh day he rested. Maybe that's a lie. Maybe he went to Mars."

Grunsfeld said the Curiosity rover may not be able to definitively answer the question of whether life exists elsewhere in the universe, but the robotic explorer's mission still represents a giant leap for mankind.

"Whether there's life elsewhere is the big, fundamental question," Grunsfeld said. "This is a big step — a big step in that direction."

Follow Denise Chow on Twitter @denisechow or SPACE.com @SpacedotcomWe're also on Facebook & Google+.

Copyright 2012 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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