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Mars rover Curiosity to drive to first location [Video discussion]

August 20, 2012 | 12:55 pm

Scientists and engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge have chosen the first drive-to spot for the Mars rover Curiosity— a place about 1,300 feet east-southeast called Glenelg, which is at the nexus of three different types of terrain. One of those types — layered bedrock — would be a tempting first target for Curiosity's drilling tool.

The Times will host a Google+ Hangout on the latest updates on the Curiosity mission with science reporter Amina Khan and city editor Shelby Grad today at 1 p.m. PST.

We invite you to join in on the conversation by posting comments below or onto The Times’ Facebook and Google Plus pages or on Twitter using the #asklatimes hashtag.

The rover unleashed its laser this past weekend on a nearby rock named Coronation, hitting the softball-size chunk with 30 pulses in a 10-second span.

Engineers at JPL will soon test the rover's steering actuators. Then Curiosity is to take its first few "steps" — driving perhaps a few feet before turning around and surveying the spot where it landed.

Times science writer Monte Morin reported that this is a stressful time for the drivers, who must sacrifice their lives on Earth to "live on Mars time," a schedule more grueling than any graveyard shift.

For months, operators will be essentially sequestered from family and friends to focus on Mars. While the mission is scheduled to run 23 months, it could last much longer.

The stress can be overwhelming. Separated from the rover by millions of miles, they know they can make no mistakes. A single slip-up can turn the ambitious scientific mission into a $2.5-billion Martian paperweight. It will feel at times like the entire world is a back-seat driver.

The drivers are now awaiting the chance to operate Curiosity, a device twice the size of predecessors Spirit and Opportunity and loaded with improvements such as a nuclear battery and a laser that can vaporize rock.

ALSO:

Learning to 'drive' Mars rover Curiosity [Google+ Hangout]

Mars rover Curiosity plans first road trip, rock-zapping laser test

Driving Mars rover Curiosity will be stressful, isolating [Video discussion]

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Mars rover Curiosity vaporizes rock with laser

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity unleashed its laser this past weekend on a nearby rock named Coronation, hitting the softball-size chunk with 30 pulses in a 10-second span.

With more than 1 million watts of power in each 5-billionths-of-a-second pulse, the laser shots from the  ChemCam instrument vaporized the rock into plasma. The device then used its spectrometers to analyze the  elemental composition.

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