It looks as if NASA is scheduled to send yet another rover to explore the Martian surface. But unlike its previous cousins, Spirit and Opportunity this robot will be armed with a fairly powerful "weapon."
(Space Spin) When the JPL-NASA Mars Science Laboratory rover launches in 2009, it will carry this combination laser-telescope unit and enable the gadget-packed rover to know a great deal about rocks in its general vicinity. The ChemCam package includes a mast unit, projecting above the rover with a laser and telescope, and a body unit, the brains of the beast, with three spectrographs and the instrument controls. [...]
The ChemCam laser emits very short pulses of 7 nanoseconds, through a small telescope that focuses the beam to a spot where the power density exceeds 10 megawatts per square millimeter, producing a plasma of vaporized material from the target rock. The unit operates on targets at distances between 4 and 30 feet. The unit also contains a camera to take extreme close-up pictures of the targets to show geologic context for each sample. The telescope and electronics were built by CESR, a research institute in Toulouse, France. The mast unit was funded by CNES, the French Space Agency. The full ChemCam flight model will be delivered to JPL in Spring of 2008.
Although the rover's main job will be simply analyzing the geologic activity of Martian rocks, hopefully it can inform scientists whether or not Mars holds any valuable resources upon its rusty soil.
Thus far, Mars is a barren world waiting to be conquered, but until any valuable resources can be located upon the red planet, then humanity may not be able to justify sending people there--at least financially.
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