NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover drilled into Martian bedrock for the first time to collect samples that could hold clues to the planet’s watery past.
Curiosity drilled 2.5 inches down into a patch of sedimentary bedrock. It then collected the rock powder left by the drill. NASA’s newest Mars rover will analyze the bedrock using its own lab instruments.
Reuters reports that this is the first time a robot has been able to drill to collect a sample from Mars. John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate, stated:
“The most advanced planetary robot ever designed is now a fully operating analytical laboratory on Mars.”
Engineers spent days preparing Curiosity for its first drilling experience. The preparation included practice bore holes earlier in the week. While previous NASA Mars probes have had tools that scrape and grind into the Red Planet’s rock, Curiosity is the first rover to be equipped with a drill.
Al Jazeera notes that Curiosity drilled into “John Klein,” a rock named for a Mars Science Laboratory deputy project manager. Klein died in 2011.
Now that the drilling is complete, ground controllers will command the Curiosity rover to process the sample by dumping bits of the rock into the instruments inside the machine.
The drill target was picked because the rock appears to be laced with veins of water-deposited minerals. While engineers are not sure how much rock powder was produced from the drilling operation, they believe there is enough to both help clean the instrument and do a lab analysis.
The drill is the last of Curiosity’s 10 science instruments to be tested. Grunsfield called its use “the biggest milestone accomplishment for the Curiosity team since the sky-crane landing last August.”
NASA’s Curiosity rover is on its way to a three-mile-high mound of layered sediment that protrudes from the floor of the Gale crater — the rover’s landing site.
[Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS]