The Latest | Southern California breaking news and trends
Environment & Science

Video: Curiosity rolls, zaps Mars rock, 'No Martians were injured'

NASA's Torsten Zorn, the tactical downlink lead on the Mars Curiosity rover, explained via video how the team had a major success this week when they deployed a laser-firing arm for the first time on Mars.

"The ChemCam unit, or Chemistry and Camera instrument, fired the laser for the first time on Mars using the beam from the science instrument to interrogate a fist-size rock called 'Coronation,'" Zorn explained. "We promise, no Martians were injured in this experiment," he joked.

Soon the team will turn on its Sample Analysis at Mars instrument. Next week the rover will also head to Gleneig on Mars where the goal is to drill a rock sample at the alien location. 

"The team named the landing site this week after the famous science fiction author, Ray Bradbury, on his birthday, Aug. 22nd, and he would've been 92," Zorn said.

As Curiosity motors around the Red Planet it's leaving a message to life forms who may come across the rover's tracks. Hopefully they're intellegent life forms who understand Morse code.

"Each of Curiosity’s six 20-inch-diameter wheels has a zigzag tread and a dash-dot pattern (.--- .--. .-..), which translates into the short and long signals of Morse code for the letters JPL," Rebbeca Boyle of Popular Science notes. "Engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where the rover was built, designed it this way in homage to the unmanned planetary systems center. It’s also to serve as a sort of wheel-based odometer."

KPCC reporters have been talking to Southland scientists and engineers about NASA's most ambitious rover yet — Curiosity — which is now exploring the Martian surface. Follow the series online.