Curiosity zaps Martian rock with laser

NASA's Curiosity rover has zapped its first Martian rock, aiming its laser for the sake of science.

During the target practice on Sunday Curiosity fired 30 pulses at a nearby rock during a 10-second window, burning a small hole in it.

Since landing in Gale Crater two weeks ago, the six-wheeled rover has been checking out its instruments including the laser. During its two-year mission, Curiosity was expected to point the laser at various rocks as it drives toward Mount Sharp, a five-kilometre-high mountain rising from the crater floor.

Its goal is to determine whether the Martian environment was habitable.

A crucial component to the mission's success is the Canadian-designed alpha particle X-ray spectrometer (APXS).

Scientists at the University of Guelph, led by physics professor Ralf Gellert, designed the APXS — a small box that functions like an X-ray machine that and concludes the elemental composition of rocks.

The Canadian Space Agency paid the $17.8 million bill.

In several days, flight controllers will command Curiosity to move its wheels side-to-side and take its first short drive on the red planet.

The $2.5-billion US mission is the most expensive yet to Mars.

With files from CBC News