September 25, 2012
Curiosity Makes Contact With Martian Rock Using Robotic Arm For First Time
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
After NASA picked out a suitable rock to study on the Red Planet, the agency´s Curiosity rover took a little stroll to the Martian sample and, for the first time, used its robotic arm to make contact with the otherworldly artifact. The rock, named “Jake Matijevic,” after the late rover engineer of the same name, will be studied by Curiosity to determine what chemical elements make up its composition.
Curiosity made the contact on its 46th day in service on Mars, September 22, or Sol 46. The contact was made by the rover´s Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) instrument on a turret at the end of the robotic arm. It closely inspected the football-sized rock with its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI). Curiosity made additional contact with the Martian sample on Sol 47.
NASA had not expected the rock to have high research value, but was regarded as an early opportunity to demonstrate the performance of some of Curiosity´s technical equipment, including the robotic arm, the hand lens, and the X-ray spectrometer.
A final exam of the rock was made on Sol 48, before Curiosity pushed forward a record 138 feet, the single biggest daily stroll for the rover since it first landed on Mars´ Gale Crater seven weeks ago.
The vehicle is now making its way to a location nicknamed Glenelg, an area that satellite images indicate may be a junction between three types of geological terrain. Scientists speculate that Curiosity may be able to use another of its instruments, a drill, for the first time at Glenelg.
Along the way to the junction, Curiosity will search for suitable soil to scoop up and deliver to its onboard lab to analyze its components.
NASA will also have Curiosity continue to use its APXS, MAHLI and ChemCam for more interesting rock analysis as it travels across the Gale Crater on its way to Mount Sharp. If and when an intriguing target is identified, the rover will be commanded to drill and acquire a sample for detailed analysis.
Curiosity is on a two-year mission (one Martian year) and during its visit, will try to determine if Gale Crater could have supported microbial life at some time in the planet´s past.
Curiosity was designed and built by NASA´s Jet Propulsion Laboratory/CALTECH.