MSL Rover Drives on Mars, Test Fires Laser at Rock

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In a test of its mobility systems, NASA’s 1-ton Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover moved for the first time since landing on the red planet, the agency said in an Aug. 22 press release.

The short drive took the Curiosity rover about 6 meters from its landing site, a spot NASA has christened Bradbury Landing after the late science fiction author Ray Bradbury.

Matt Heverly, the mission’s lead rover driver at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., said the test drive confirms that “[w]e have a fully functioning mobility system with lots of amazing exploration ahead.”

On Aug. 18, Curiosity tested its onboard laser for the first time, training the beam on a martian rock as part of the checkout process for the rover’s Chemistry and Camera instrument. The so-called ChemCam uses three spectrometers to analyze the composition of martian rocks and soil.

Curiosity is on a two-year mission to determine whether the conditions known to support life on Earth ever existed on Mars.

JPL, which designed and developed the Curiosity rover, manages the Mars Science Laboratory mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The California Institute of Technology runs JPL for NASA under a contract that is renewed every five years. The newest contract, which was just awarded, runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, 2017 and is valued at $8.5 billion.