Following an eight-month, 354-million mile journey, and a gentle landing in an area known as Gale Crater, researchers associated with the Mars Rover Curiosity were all smiles on Sunday night when confirmation the Rover had touched down safely reached the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.

Researchers, including University of New Mexico's Horton Newsom, are now at work checking out the systems on Curiosity, which is the most ambitious research mission ever undertaken to Mars. At a cost of $2.5 billion, it's also the most expensive. Newsom was in Pasadena along with other New Mexicans from Los Alamos National Laboratory watching a television feed of the landing late-Sunday night like many others.

Newsom, a senior researcher at UNM's Institute of Meteoritics, is one of the co-investigators leading a faculty-student team and collaborating on the ChemCam laser which has New Mexico written all over it with the involvement of researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the University of New Mexico.

Several new tools will give researchers the ability to better determine and discover the differences among geologic composition with greater accuracy than previous Rovers. Researchers collaborated to create an instrument called ChemCam, which is designed to obliterate rock into tiny pieces to enable researchers to analyze the chemical makeup of the rock.

The instruments will be able to tell if hydrogen and oxygen, the components in water, are in the rocks. The laser, which can vaporize rock at a distance of 20 paces, can evaluate the remains and assess whether or not there are any signs of life in the form of water. It can also study the geologic chemistry of nearby, surrounding areas to help researchers determine what direction to send the rover.

After approximately three months, Newsom and the researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratories will return to New Mexico to coordinate ChemCam activities.

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