For over one month now, Mars rover Curiosity has been preparing to use its hammering drill for the first time. It now appears that the rover's first drill test is now imminent.
Researchers announced that they have placed the drill onto a series of locations and pressed down on it with Curiosity's arm. This "pre-load testing allowed engineers to check the force applied to the drill and cross-check it with their predictions. The next step is a pre-load test at night, to make sure that temperature changes do not add to the stress on the rover's arm. Temperatures at Curiosity's location can range from 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) to to 65 degrees Celsius (85 degrees Fehrenheit).
"We don't plan on leaving the drill in a rock overnight once we start drilling, but in case that happens, it is important to know what to expect in terms of stress on the hardware," said Daniel Limonadi, the lead systems engineer for Curiosity's surface sampling and science system at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). "This test is done at lower pre-load values than we plan to use during drilling, to let us learn about the temperature effects without putting the hardware at risk."
The rest of the week will be filled with hardware checks and an evaluation of the rock that has been selected as the first drilling site. Two weeks ago a flat, veined rock named "John Klein" was chosen for the honor.
"We are proceeding with caution in the approach to Curiosity's first drilling," said Limonadi. "This is challenging. It will be the first time any robot has drilled into a rock to collect a sample on Mars."