Scientists, Engineers, and Rover Drivers Plot Curiosity's First Science Targets
August 18, 2012 • 8:17PM

Starting tomorrow, Curiosity will get to demonstrate what she can do that no spacecraft on Mars could do before. During a teleconference today, Roger Wiens from Los Alamos National Laboratory, who is the Principal Investigator for the rover's ChemCam suite of instruments, reported that tomorrow the rover will point its laser to hit a rock, designated N165, and fire 30 shots at it, over 10 seconds, using the rock for target practice to test the laser's pointing capability. The target is a small rock, about 10 feet away from the rover, with no extraordinary characteristics, and so is perfect for a first test. In total, ChemCam is designed to conduct 14,000 analyses of rocks and soil, over the nearly two-year course of the mission.

John Grotzinger, Principal Investigator for Curiosity, reported that the science team had agreed that the first destination for Curiosity, after it completes mobility tests, will be to a region they have named Glenelg, after an ancient Canadian rock formation. It is at the intersection of a variety of different Martian terrains, including layered bedrock. This may be the rover's first target to test its ability drill in to a rock. To get to Glenelg, the rover will have to travel about 1,300 feet. Dr. Grotzinger estimates getting there will take several weeks. Once there, Curiosity might do about a month of science investigation at the site. He estimates it will be toward the end of this year Curiosity heads for the lower reaches of Mount Sharp.

By next week, he said, there should be a "full weather report" available, and some science from the other instruments.