Curiosity Drills Into Martian Bedrock
February 10, 2013

Curiosity Rover Collects First Sample Of Martian Bedrock

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

NASA´s Curiosity rover has become the first robot ever to drill into bedrock and collect a sample on Mars, using a drill located at the end of its mechanical arm to bore a hole into fine-grained sediment, then collecting material from the interior for future analysis, the US space agency announced on Friday.

According to NASA officials, Curiosity drilled a hole that is approximately 0.63 inch wide and 2.5 inches deep in a rock known as “John Klein” on Thursday, February 8 — the rover´s 182nd Martian day of operations.

Scientists believe that the rock, which received its moniker in honor of a late Mars Science Laboratory deputy project manager of the same name, could hold evidence about wet environments of a bygone era. Curiosity will now utilize its laboratory instruments to analyze rock powder collected by the drill, hoping to discover that evidence.

"The most advanced planetary robot ever designed is now a fully operating analytical laboratory on Mars," John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for the NASA´s Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement. "This is the biggest milestone accomplishment for the Curiosity team since the sky-crane landing last August, another proud day for America.”

Members of the ground control team will now spend the next several days commanding the rover´s arm to complete a multistep analysis of the rock sample, culminating with the delivery of the material to Curiosity´s internal instruments.

Avi Okon, a drill cognizant engineer at NASA's California-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which manages the project for the Science Mission Directorate, explained that his team believes they have “collected sufficient material from the rock to meet our objectives of hardware cleaning and sample drop-off.”

Before the powder collected by the rover can be analyzed, however, some of it will be used to make sure that the drill arm has not been contaminated by trace material collected while it was on Earth.

“We'll take the powder we acquired and swish it around to scrub the internal surfaces of the drill bit assembly," explained JPL's Scott McCloskey, drill systems engineer on the Curiosity project. "Then we'll use the arm to transfer the powder out of the drill into the scoop, which will be our first chance to see the acquired sample."

"Building a tool to interact forcefully with unpredictable rocks on Mars required an ambitious development and testing program," added Louise Jandura, chief engineer for the rover´s sample system. "To get to the point of making this hole in a rock on Mars, we made eight drills and bored more than 1,200 holes in 20 types of rock on Earth."

Image 2 (below): NASA's Mars rover Curiosity used its Mast Camera (Mastcam) to take the images combined into this mosaic of the drill area, called "John Klein." The label "Drill" indicates where the rover ultimately performed its first sample drilling. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS