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The Mission




Mission: Mars Science Lab
Rocket: Atlas 5 (AV-028)
Launch: Nov. 26, 2011 @ 10:02am EST (1502 GMT)
Landing: Aug. 6, 2012 @ 1:32am EDT (0532 GMT)
Site: Base of Mount Sharp in Gale Crater

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Zap! Mars rover uses rock for laser-shooting practice
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: August 19, 2012


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The Curiosity rover successfully test fired a powerful laser at a nearby rock Sunday, blasting it with rapid-fire million-watt pulses that vaporized the outer layers for spectroscopic analysis.


This composite image, with magnified insets, depicts the first laser test by the Chemistry and Camera, or ChemCam, instrument aboard NASA's Curiosity Mars rover. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP
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The Chemistry and Camera instrument, known as ChemCam, hit the target rock, dubbed "Coronation," with 30 pulses of laser light over 10 seconds, according to a NASA update. Each pulse lasted about five one-billionths of a second.

The laser beam created a visible spark of electrically charged plasma that was then observed by the instrument's telescope. The telescope, mounted on Curiosity's camera mast, fed the light through optical fibers to three spectrometers designed to record 6,144 different wavelengths of infrared, visible and ultraviolet light.

In a before-and-after image released by NASA, a tiny spot could be seen in an 8-millimeter by 8-millimeter frame that showed exactly where the laser beam hit.

"We got a great spectrum of Coronation, lots of signal," Roger Wiens, the ChemCam principal investigator at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, said in a NASA statement. "Our team is both thrilled and working hard, looking at the results. After eight years building the instrument, it's payoff time."


This artist's concept shows Curiosity shooting its laser at a rock target. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
 
Deputy project scientist Sylvestre Maurice of the Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planetologie in Toulouse, France, said he was surprised "the data are even better than we ever had during tests on Earth."

"It's so rich, we can expect great science from investigating what might be thousands of targets with ChemCam in the next two years," he said.

Laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy is a technique used on Earth to study the composition of targets in extreme environments. NASA said the tests Sunday in Gale Crater on Mars marked the first time the technique has been used on another planet.

While the test was primarily intended to help the science team characterize the complex instrument's aiming and performance, the data generated may provide immediate insights. Scientists plan to look for possible changes indicating differences between dust on the surface of the rock and its interior.

ChemCam was designed and built at Los Alamos and is a joint project between the U.S. Department of Energy and the French national space agency. It is one of 10 state-of-the-art instruments making up Curiosity's science payload that will look for carbon compounds and signs of past or present habitability during the rover's planned two-year mission.

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VIDEO: ONBOARD CAMERA VIEW OF NOSE CONE JETTISON PLAY | HI-DEF
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VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: THE BEACH TRACKER PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: SHUTTLE PAD CAMERA PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: SHUTTLE WATER TOWER PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: TRACKER WEST OF THE PAD PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: CLOSE-UP ON UMBILICALS PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: COMPLEX 41 VIF PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: THE PRESS SITE PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: PRE-LAUNCH INTERVIEW WITH PROJECT MANAGER PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: NARRATED PREVIEW OF ATLAS 5 ASCENT PROFILE PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ROCKET'S LAUNCH CAMPAIGN HIGHLIGHTS PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: MSL'S LAUNCH CAMPAIGN HIGHLIGHTS PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: SPACECRAFT CLEANROOM TOUR PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: ATLAS ROCKET ROLLS OUT TO LAUNCH PAD PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: TIME-LAPSE VIEWS OF ROCKET ROLLOUT PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: THE PRE-LAUNCH NEWS CONFERENCE PLAY
VIDEO: CURIOSITY ROVER SCIENCE BRIEFING PLAY
VIDEO: LOOKING FOR LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE PLAY
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VIDEO: ROBOTICS AND HUMANS TO MARS TOGETHER PLAY

VIDEO: PREVIEW OF ENTRY, DESCENT AND LANDING PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: PREVIEW OF CURIOSITY ROVER EXPLORING MARS PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: A FLYOVER OF THE GALE CRATER LANDING SITE PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: NUCLEAR GENERATOR HOISTED TO ROVER PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: MARS SCIENCE LAB MOUNTED ATOP ATLAS 5 PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: MOVING MSL TO ATLAS ROCKET HANGAR PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: SPACECRAFT PLACED ABOARD TRANSPORTER PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: APPLYING MISSION LOGOS ON THE FAIRING PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: MSL ENCAPSULATED IN ROCKET'S NOSE CONE PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: FINAL LOOK AT SPACECRAFT BEFORE SHROUDING PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: HEAT SHIELD INSTALLED ONTO SPACECRAFT PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: BEAUTY SHOTS OF SPACECRAFT PACKED UP PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ATTACHING THE RING-LIKE CRUISE STAGE PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: PARACHUTE-EQUIPPED BACKSHELL INSTALLED PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: SKYCRANE AND CURIOSITY MATED TOGETHER PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: TWO-HALVES OF ROCKET NOSE CONE ARRIVES PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: CENTAUR UPPER STAGE HOISTED ATOP ATLAS PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: FINAL SOLID ROCKET BOOSTER ATTACHED PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: FIRST OF FOUR SOLID BOOSTERS MOUNTED PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: FIRST STAGE ERECTED ON MOBILE LAUNCHER PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: STAGES DRIVEN FROM HARBOR TO THE ASOC PLAY | HI-DEF
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VIDEO: SPIN-TESTING THE RING-LIKE CRUISE STAGE PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: UNCOVERING CURIOSITY ROVER IN CLEANROOM PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: UNVEILING THE ROCKET-POWERED SKYCRANE PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: UNBOXING THE ROVER FROM SHIPPING CRATE PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ROVER HAULED FROM RUNWAY TO PHSF FACILITY PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: MARS ROVER ARRIVES AT KENNEDY SPACE CENTER PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: DESCENT WEIGHTS INSTALLED ON BACKSHELL PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: SOLAR ARRAY PANELS ATTACHED TO CRUISE RING PLAY | HI-DEF
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