NASA today announced that Mars rover Curiosity is closer than ever to the first full use of its hammering drill. Over the weekend the rover completed a successful test of the drill's percussive action.
The "drill-on-rock checkout" left a mark on the rock, named "John Klein," chosen as the target for the first drill sampling of rock material in the history of Mars exploration. It was another step in the drill testing announced last week.
There is still one more test to be performed before the actual drilling can commence. A "mini drill" test will use both the rotary and percussive capabilities of the drill to create a ring of rock powder around a hole. The test will, say researchers, allow them to test the material and see if it is a dry powder that can be tested by Curiosity's sample handling equipment.
The rover team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has been preparing to use Curiosity's drill for almost two Earth months now. The event has been carefully prepared for in detail, with researchers taking time to choose a suitable rock target and test every aspect of the drill. Mars Science Laboratory Project Manager Richard Cook has called the event "this mission's most challenging activity since the landing."