Lasers Find Varied Uses
in Space Applications
From the first laser fired on another planet to observatory guide
stars and space collision avoidance systems, lasers in space
are making news with numerous advances and universal firsts
(as far as we know).
BY VALERIE C. COFFE Y
FREELANCE SCIENCE WRITER
With the beginning of the Laser Lunar Ranging experiment in the 1960s, the use of lasers in
space moved out of the realm of science
fiction into reality. While lasers-as-
lightsabers are still only Star Wars fiction,
the numerous ways we use lasers in space
applications are pretty cool, even to non-
Figure 1. NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover uses its mast-mounted, megawatt infrared laser (an invisible ray illustrated here in visible red light) to vaporize a bit of rock. The resulting light is captured by a telescope and a camera, routed via fiber optics to three spectrographs in the instrument, and analyzed to identify its components.