Ready, set, fire. The NASA Mars rover Curiosity is preparing for its first laser target practice—zapping a Martian rock 10 feet away tonight. Since landing in an ancient crater Aug. 5, the car-size Curiosity has been getting a full health checkup. Scientists said yesterday they have chosen a generic-looking rock near the landing site to aim the laser at and burn a small hole. The laser is just one of several tools Curiosity has in its arsenal.
Engineers next week plan to command Curiosity to turn its wheels side-to-side and then take its first short drive that will involve rolling forward 10 feet, turning 90 degrees, and then going in reverse. After the checkups are done, the rover will head 1,300 feet east to a spot where three different types of terrain converge. That drive will take about a month. By year's end, it will start its trek toward a mountain rising from the crater floor. (Read more NASA stories.)