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Originally published Friday, August 17, 2012 at 12:57 PM

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NASA rover prepares to use laser on a Martian rock

Ready, set, fire.

The Associated Press

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LOS ANGELES —

Ready, set, fire.

The NASA Mars rover Curiosity is preparing for its first laser target practice - zapping a Martian rock 10 feet away on Saturday night.

Since landing in an ancient crater Aug. 5, the car-size Curiosity has been getting a full health checkup. Scientists said Friday they have chosen a generic-looking rock near the landing site to aim the laser at and burn a small hole.

The laser is one of 10 tools Curiosity will use to study whether the environment was favorable for microbial life.

Engineers next week planned to command Curiosity to turn its wheels side-to-side and then take its first short drive that will involve rolling forward 10 feet, turning 90 degrees and then going in reverse.

After the checkups are done, the rover will head 1,300 feet east to a spot where three different types of terrain converge in a drive that will take about a month. By year's end, it will start its trek toward a mountain rising from the crater floor.

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