Mars Rover

Curiosity drills rock for sample

Print edition : March 08, 2013

The drilling took place on February 8, or Sol 182, Curiosity’s 182nd Martian day of operations. Several preparatory activities with the drill preceded this operation, including a test that produced the shallower hole on the right two days earlier, but the deeper hole resulted from the first use of the drill for rock sample collection. Photo: Courtesy: NASA

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Curiosity rover has, for the first time, used a drill to bore into a flat, veiny rock on Mars and collect a sample from its interior. This is the first time any robot has drilled into a rock to collect a sample on Mars. The hole, about 1.6 centimetres wide and 6.4 cm deep, was drilled in a patch of fine-grained sedimentary bedrock, which is believed to hold evidence of long-gone wet environments. Curiosity will use its laboratory instruments to analyse the rock powder collected by the drill.

“This is the biggest milestone accomplishment for the Curiosity team since the sky-crane landing last August,” said John Grunsfeld of NASA. For the next several days, ground controllers will command the rover’s arm to carry out a series of steps to process the sample, ultimately delivering portions to the instruments inside. Rock powder generated during drilling travels up flutes on the drill bit. The bit assembly has chambers to hold the powder until it can be transferred to the sample-handling mechanisms of the rover’s Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis device. “Building a tool to interact forcefully with unpredictable rocks on Mars required an ambitious development and testing programme,” said the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Louise Jandura, chief engineer for Curiosity’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 the earth.” Inside the sample-handling device, the powder will be vibrated once or twice over a sieve that screens out any particles larger than 150 micrometres across. Small portions of the sieved sample will fall through ports on the rover deck into the Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument and the Sample Analysis at Mars instrument.

The rock Curiosity drilled is called “John Klein” in memory of a Mars Science Laboratory deputy project manager who died in 2011.

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