Curiosity Drills On Mars
February 7, 2013

Curiosity Performs ‘Mini-Drilling’ Test On Martian Rock

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

NASA announced on Thursday its Curiosity rover has performed a mini drilling test on Mars for the first time.

The drill, according to NASA, went through percussion and rotation tests to bore into about 0.8-inches of rock on Mars, generating cuttings for evaluation in advance of the rover's first sample-collection drilling.

NASA said this test was confirmed in data received from Mars late Wednesday at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. They said if the drill cuttings on the ground around the hole pass visual evaluation then the team plans to proceed with commanding the first full drilling in coming days.

This test was performed on a patch of flat, vein-bearing rock known as "John Klein," where previous testing had also been performed earlier. The rock was named after former Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) deputy project manager John W. Klein, who died in 2011.

The veins found on the rock are most likely composed of hydrated calcium sulfate, such as bassinet or gypsum, according to ChemCam team member Nicolas Mangold. He said on Earth, forming these veins requires water circulating in fractures.

Curiosity used its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera to record the images of the mini drilling, which included shots of the resulting hole and cuttings. The image not only shows the hole drilled, but also surrounding dust, which eventually could be collected by the rover and analyzed.

Observations taken of this rock makes NASA scientists believe it could give evidence of wet environmental conditions in Mars' past. The team will be using Curiosity's laboratory instruments onboard the rover to analyze sample powder taken from inside the rock to learn more about the site's environmental history.

During this weekend's test, Curiosity left its mark on the same rock during an activity called a "drill-on-rock checkout."

Curiosity is currently on its two-year prime mission on the red planet, with a goal to find evidence for whether our neighboring planet ever had environmental conditions favorable for microbial life. redOrbit first reported about the rover beginning to make its way towards its first drilling target back in mid-January. Richard Cook, MSL's project manager, said this activity would be the mission's most challenging yet.

“Drilling into a rock to collect a sample will be this mission´s most challenging activity since the landing. It has never been done on Mars,” Cook of NASA´s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California said back in January. “The drill hardware interacts energetically with Martian material we don´t control. We won´t be surprised if some steps in the process don´t go exactly as planned the first time through.”