The $2.5 billion Curiosity project marks NASA’s first astrobiology mission since the Viking probes to Mars during the 1970s and the most advanced robotic science lab sent to another world.
The technique employed by ChemCam has been used to examine the composition of materials in other extreme environments, such as inside nuclear reactors and on the sea floor.
The technology also has experimental applications in environmental monitoring and cancer detection. But Sunday’s exercise, conducted during Curiosity’s 13th full day on Mars, was the first use in interplanetary exploration, NASA said.
Before Curiosity embarks on its 4.3-mile (7-km) trek to the foot of Mount Sharp, a journey that could take six months, mission controllers plan to send it out on a shorter jaunt to a spot 1,600 feet (500 meters) from its landing site.