Our intrepid exploring rover gingerly began testing out its systems and cogs and wheels on Wednesday (Sol 16), driving up 15 feet and back 8. But any day now, it will begin its voyage to Mt. Sharp creeping toward Mt. Sharpe five miles away–its first destination is 1/5 of the way to Sharpe at 1,300 feet away. Eventually, the rover will cover a football field a day, but its baby step-start is a necessary pace to make sure all the cogs and wheels are clicking right.

Remember that inaugural lasering of the rock they codenamed Coronation? Yeah, that wasn’t just to blast an interplanetary Earth-flag into Mars–it got results.

For all you non-scientists, here’s NASA/JPL’s breakdown:

ChemCam’s detectors observe light in the ultraviolet (UV), violet, visible and near-infrared ranges using three spectrometers, covering wavelengths from 240 to 850 nanometers. The light is produced when ChemCam’s laser pulse strikes a target, generating ionized gases in the form of plasma, which is then analyzed by the spectrometers and their detectors for the presence of specific elements. The detectors can collect up to 16,000 counts produced by the light in any of its 6,144 channels for each laser shot.

The plot is a composite of spectra taken over 30 laser shots at a single 0.016-inch (0.4-millimeter) diameter spot on the target. An inset on the left shows detail for the minor elements titanium and manganese in the 398-to-404-nanometer range. An inset at the right shows the hydrogen and carbon peaks. The carbon peak was from the carbon dioxide in Mars’ air. The hydrogen peak was only present on the first laser shot, indicating that the element was only on the very surface of the rock. Magnesium was also slightly enriched on the surface. The heights of the peaks do not directly indicate the relative abundances of the elements in the rock, as some emission lines are more easily excited than others.

A preliminarily analysis indicates the spectrum is consistent with basalt, a type of volcanic rock, which is known from previous missions to be abundant on Mars

NASA & JPL will have a press conference on Monday at 5 p.m. to explain what’s next for the roving techsplorer, streaming live on their ustream and on the NASA channel, obvi.

(Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech)