NASA’s Curiosity Land Rover to Zap First Rock
NASA recently announced it has finally selected the very first destination, out of several, for its Curiosity land rover to travel to.
Where is Curiosity heading? On its first driving destination, NASA has chosen Glenelg, which is a natural intersection for three different kinds of terrain including layered bedrock.
“With such a great landing spot in Gale Crater, we literally had every degree of the compass to choose from for our first drive,” John Grotzinger, project scientist for Curiosity, said. “We had a bunch of strong contenders. It is the kind of dilemma planetary scientists dream of, but you can only go one place for the first drilling for a rock sample on Mars. That first drilling will be a huge moment in the history of Mars exploration.”
The photo above illustrates Curiosity’s first travel location, along with its other destination labeled “Base of Mount Sharp.”
Glenelg is 1,300 feet from the rover’s landing spot. Before it heads on over, Curiosity’s Chemistry and Camera instrument team (aka ChemCam) will thoroughly check out the rock-zapping laser and telescope combo. Curiosity will make history by “zapping” its very first rock making it the first powerful laser to be used on Mars, or any other “surface of another world” for that matter.
“Rock N165 looks like your typical Mars rock, about three inches wide. It’s about 10 feet away,” said Roger Wiens, principal investigator of the ChemCam instrument. “We are going to hit it with 14 millijoules of energy 30 times in 10 seconds. It is not only going to be an excellent test of our system, it should be pretty cool too.”
Scientists felt Glenelg was the appropriate first choice. Not only will Curiosity visit it twice (driving in and out), but the name is also a palindrome.
In upcoming days, Curiosity will put to use its four steerable wheels, along with exercising different skills.
“There will be a lot of important firsts that will be taking place for Curiosity over the next few weeks, but the first motion of its wheels, the first time our roving laboratory on Mars does some actual roving, that will be something special,” said Michael Watkins, mission manager for Curiosity from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.