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Saturday Night on Mars: Curiosity Set to Test Laser

Curiosity is being prepped by NASA to take its first drive


Curiosity, the world's favorite Mars Rover, will finally get to stretch its proverbial limbs Saturday night, as NASA engineers prepare for the robot's first tests.

The car-sized rover will zap a basalt Mars rock situated 10 feet away from it in the red planet's Gale crater, where it first landed August 5, the Associated Press reported. Curiosity will also take its first drive to test out its wheels.

The rover will fire 30 laser bursts over 10 seconds, and capture the light generated by the tiny bit of plasma that will be created with each blast, the Atlantic explained. Each element of the rock, which is temporarily being referred to as N165, has a distinctive chemical signature that the rover's ChemCam can detect.

"We didn't pick it for its science value," said Roger Wiens, a lead investigator on the Curiosity team, ComputerWorld reported. "We're just using it for target practice. We wanted to shoot something that is sort of mid-range for a first shot. We thought we'd give ourselves something easy to start with."

Since the rover's monumental landing, NASA engineers have been busy testing out Curiosity's 10 instruments, as well as photographing Mars and measured the temperature of the planet (a chilly 37 degrees Fahrenheit), Wired reported.

"The excitement from the science team is that all the instruments continue to check out," John Grotzinger, a project scientist with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said during a press call Friday. "If we continue down the nominal path, it's probably going to be a couple of days. Sometime next week you'll hear about successful tests of the first wheel motions."

After the rover's wheels are tested out, NASA will send Curiosity on its first real Mars adventure, to an area dubbed Glenelg, which is a three- to four-week long journey from Gale crater.

“We’re really excited," Wiens said of Saturday's tests. "We’ve waited eight long years to get to this date."