United Stated – Mars Rover Curiosity can now autonomously decided whether or not to shoot a laser at Martian objects. NASA’s Curiosity is a robotic rover exploring Gale Crater on Mars as part of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission. Now, under Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science (AEGIS) software, Curiosity has the capacity of autonomous laser shooting.

The rover announced this new feature on its Twitter account (@MarsCuriosity), stating “I can now choose rocks to zap with ChemCam on my own. #pewpew”. It is the first time autonomous shooting is available for a rover on any robotic planetary mission, according to the NASA website. With this new characteristic, the rover will analyze images of its surroundings as long as 23 feet away, and then decide if they are worth investigating.

Mars Rover Curiosity in artist’s concept, wide. Jet Propulsion Laboratory

If Curiosity decides the rock is worth it, will shoot a laser and camera at the objects through the rover’s ChemCam, analyzing the composition of the resulting vapor and finally sending the information back to Earth, tens of millions of miles away.

Before scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, would had the painstaking task of manually select samples from Curiosity’s images to direct the ChemCam to those potentially interesting spots.

During its four years exploring Mars, Curiosity has fired over 350,000 lasers to examine more than 1,400 specimens.

Scientists will still select the many of the samples, but the autonomous targeting will be very helpful.

“This autonomy is particularly useful at times when getting the science team in the loop is difficult or impossible – in the middle of a long drive, perhaps, or when the schedules of Earth, Mars and spacecraft activities lead to delays in sharing information between the planets”, stated during a press release Tara Estlin, leader of the AEGIS project at JPL.

Curiosity has been an instrumental part of NASA’s Mars study.  During its time on Martian soil, the rover has discovered information about Mars’ rhythm of seasons, orbit shape and temperature fluctuations. It also found evidence of silica-rich volcanic materials in Gale Crater.

Curiosity who?

The $2.5-billion Curiosity mission was launched from Cape Canaveral on November 26, 2011, and landed on Mars in August 2012.

Its goals in the neighboring planet include determining if the Gale Crater had ever been capable of supporting microbial life and investigation of the Martian climate and geology, in preparation for future human exploration. Curiosity’s design will also serve as the basis for the planned Mars 2020 rover.

The rover is popular, having 3 million followers on Twitter; on 2012, One thousand people gathered in New York City’s Times Square, to watch NASA’s live broadcast of its landing,

The first footage Curiosity sent back on Earth was available on NASA TV, on August 6, 2012. The NASA website crashed down from the overwhelming number of people visiting it.

Also on 2012, the Curiosity Project Team was awarded the Robert J. Collier Trophy by the National Aeronautic Association

Curiosity’s design will serve as the basis for the planned Mars 2020 rover mission. The new assignment is intended to investigate the possibility of past life on Mars and its surface geological processes and history.

Source: Washington Post