Researchers prepare for a test of the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument that will fly on NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission. The instrument uses a pulsed laser beam to vaporize a pinhead-size target, producing a flash of light from the ionized material -- plasma -- that can be analyzed to identify chemical elements in the target.
In this photo taken at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, N.M., researchers are preparing the instrument's mast unit for a laser firing test. The ChemCam mast unit, which holds the instrument's telescopic camera as well as its laser, was later installed on the remote sensing mast of the mission's Mars rover, Curiosity. It shares the mast with the rover's Mast Camera and navigation cameras. ChemCam also includes a body unit that has been installed inside the rover. The body unit holds the instrument's spectrometers and data processor. Optical fiber through the mast carries light from the telescope to the spectrometers.
ChemCam was conceived, designed and built by a U.S.-French team led by Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, N. M.; NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.; the Centre National d'Études Spatiales (the French government space agency); and the Centre d'Étude Spatiale des Rayonnements at the Observatoire Midi-Pyrénées, Toulouse, France.
JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory mission for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. This mission will land a rover named Curiosity on Mars in August 2012. Researchers will use the tools on the rover to study whether the landing region has had environmental conditions favorable for supporting microbial life and favorable for preserving clues about whether life existed.