The Mars Science Laboratory — better known as the Curiosity rover — has been sitting in its landing zone in Mars' Gale Crater for over 12 days since its successful landing, and it is now getting ready to make its first baby steps on the Martian surface. Over the next few days, the rover will move its wheels for the first time: it'll turn them side-to-side before driving forward 10 feet and then moving seven feet in reverse. The test is in preparation for Curiosity's first mission: a 1,300 foot (400 meter) expedition to a spot that's being called "Glenelg," which was chosen because it's where three different types of terrain meet. Glenelg is a three- to four-weeks' journey in the wrong direction from the rover's primary destination — the base of Mount Sharp — and the location was given a palindrome for a name since Curiosity will need to double back to make it to the mountain after the two-month mission is complete.


Curiosity has another test to complete before it even begins to wiggle its wheels, however: the rover's ChemCam laser and telescope combination is set to probe a rock. NASA's engineers have picked their first target: a rock situated 10 feet from the rover's landing spot. Tonight, it'll be zapped 30 times in a 10-second time period before the plasma emitted from the rock is analyzed to identify its chemical makeup.

That test will merely be the latest in a long line of checks that the team has performed since the landing to make sure that everything is operational. Thankfully, everything has checked out so far, and a software update went off without a hitch. Part of those post-flight tests included photographing and analyzing the environment around Curiosity's landing spot — which was most dramatically shown off in a 360-degree panorama created by photographer Andrew Bodrov. That panorama was stitched together from NASA's database of raw images from the rover, and included some parts that had to be filled in from photographs taken on different missions. BBC News has reposted that panorama with a bit more information on it and has included some markers on the image that show points of interest.

In more Earthly Curiosity news, a Lego Cuusoo project depicting the rover and its Sky Crane has received its backing — so you, too, may soon be able to own a Mars Science Laboratory of your own.