Mars Rover to Fire Rock-Zapping Laser Ahead of 1st Drive
NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity is slated to fire its rock-vaporizing laser for the first time this weekend, shortly before the 1-ton robot’s maiden drive on the Red Planet.
Scientists plan to blast a Martian rock called N165 with Curiosity’s laser, which is part of the rover’s remote-sampling ChemCam instrument. The 3-inch-wide (7.6 centimeters) stone sits just 9 feet (2.7 meters) from Curiosity, well within ChemCam’s 25-foot (7.6 m) range, scientists said.
“Our team has waited eight long years to get to this date, and we’re happy that everything is looking good so far,” ChemCam principal investigator Roger Wiens, of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, told reporters today (Aug. 17). “Hopefully we’ll be back early next week and be able to talk about how Curiosity’s first laser shots went.”
Firing up the laser
ChemCam, which is short for Chemistry and Camera, fires a laser at Mars rocks and then determines their chemical makeup by analzying the vaporized bits. It’s one of 10 instruments designed to help Curiosity determine if Mars has ever been capable of supporting microbial life.
While researchers haven’t turned the laser on yet, ChemCam seems to be in fine working shape, Wiens said.
“We have basically done everything with this instrument except for turn the laser on,” Wiens said. “Everything checks out well so far, so we’re really optimistic.”
Over the next few days, the team will perform some more calibration work with ChemCam, he added. The rover will also photograph N165 before finally shooting the rock with the laser — a milestone that could come Saturday night (Aug. 18), researchers said.
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