After months of careful planning and tests, Mars rover Curiosity has finally used its hammering drill to collect a bedrock sample on Mars. The event marks the first time any rover has drilled into a rock on the red planet.
Curiosity left a hole 0.63 inches (1.6 cm) wide and 2.5 inches (6.4 cm) deep in a flat, veiny rock named “John Klein.” As the rover drilled into the rock, rock powder traveled up flutes on the drill bit, which has holding chambers for the powder. The sample obtained by the rover should help researchers determine whether the rock was ever underwater.
“The most advanced planetary robot ever designed is now a fully operating analytical laboratory on Mars,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate. “This is the biggest milestone accomplishment for the Curiosity team since the sky-crane landing last August, another proud day for America.”
Over the next few days, the rock powder will be processed and tested to determine its mineral make-up and chemical composition.
“We’ll take the powder we acquired and swish it around to scrub the internal surfaces of the drill bit assembly,” said Scott McCloskey, drill systems engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). “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.”
The successful drilling marks another milestone for the rover itself. All of Curiosity’s instruments have now been tested on Mars, and the rover has been deemed fully operational.
“Building a tool to interact forcefully with unpredictable rocks on Mars required an ambitious development and testing program,” said Louise Jandura, chief engineer for Curiosity’s sample system at JPL. “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.”