Mars rover and future astronaut craft in parade

A pair of high-profile NASA projects -- the nuclear-powered Mars Curiosity rover and Orion deep-space capsule -- were showcased Monday in Washington during the inaugural parade, gaining visibility in the nation's capital.

Two floats carrying a full-size replica rover and a mockup of the spacecraft traveled along the parade route and passed by the presidential observation box in front of the White House, where President Barack Obama, the First Family and the Biden's watched the bands and displays.

C-SPAN showed the NASA exhibits passing the president. CNN and MSNBC were cutting away to a commercial break. FOX News was not showing the parade at the time.

Walking in the parade were members of the Curiosity team from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, including project manager Richard Cook, mohawked flight director Bobak Ferdowsi, mission manager Jennifer Trosper and deputy project scientist Ashwin Vasavada.

Curiosity left Earth in November 2011 and landed in Gale Crater on the red planet last August. It has embarked on a two-year mission to determine if the landing area was once hospitable to life.

Current and former astronauts were walking Monday, too, including Alvin Drew, Serena Aunon, Kate Rubins, Mike Massimino, Lee Morin and Kjell Lindgren, as well as Leland Melvin, NASA's associate administrator for Education, and John Grunsfeld, NASA's associate administrator for Science.

The Orion program will perform its first flight-test next year, launching atop a Delta 4-Heavy rocket on a three-orbit shakedown cruise to gather data on system performance, including high-velocity re-entry speeds that the heat-shield would see on a lunar return.

A full-up spacecraft will fly on the Space Launch System rocket in 2017, leading to a manned debut in 2021.

Orion is the vehicle being developed by NASA and Lockheed Martin to take astronauts on deep-space missions to asteroids, the moon and Mars.

NASA photos by Carla Cioffi and Bill Ingalls

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