Wednesday, October 21
       

NASA CURIOSITY Rover Collects First Martian Bedrock Sample

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PASADENA, Calif. — NASA’s Curiosity rover has, for the first time,
used a drill carried at the end of its robotic arm 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 fresh hole, about 0.63 inch (1.6 centimeters) wide and 2.5 inches
(6.4 centimeters) deep in a patch of fine-grained sedimentary
bedrock, can be seen in images and other data Curiosity beamed to
Earth Saturday. The rock is believed to hold evidence about long-gone
wet environments. In pursuit of that evidence, the rover will use its
laboratory instruments to analyze rock powder collected by the drill.

“The most advanced planetary robot ever designed now is a fully
operating analytical laboratory on Mars,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA
associate administrator for the agency’s 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.”

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.

“We commanded the first full-depth drilling, and we believe we have
collected sufficient material from the rock to meet our objectives of
hardware cleaning and sample drop-off,” said Avi Okon, drill
cognizant engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL),
Pasadena.

Rock powder generated during drilling travels up flutes on the 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 (CHIMRA)
device.

Before the rock powder is analyzed, some will be used to scour traces
of material that may have been deposited onto the hardware while the
rover still was on Earth, despite thorough cleaning before launch.

“We’ll take the powder we acquired and swish it around to scrub the
internal surfaces of the drill bit assembly,” said JPL’s Scott
McCloskey, drill systems engineer. “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.”

“Building a tool to interact forcefully with unpredictable rocks on
Mars required an ambitious development and testing program,” said
JPL’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 Earth.”

Inside the sample-handling device, the powder will be vibrated once or
twice over a sieve that screens out any particles larger than
six-thousandths of an inch (150 microns) across. Small portions of
the sieved sample will fall through ports on the rover deck into the
Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument and the Sample Analysis
at Mars (SAM) instrument. These instruments then will begin the
much-anticipated detailed analysis.

The rock Curiosity drilled is called “John Klein” in memory of a Mars
Science Laboratory deputy project manager who died in 2011. Drilling
for a sample is the last new activity for NASA’s Mars Science
Laboratory Project, which is using the car-size Curiosity rover to
investigate whether an area within Mars’ Gale Crater has ever offered
an environment favorable for life.

JPL manages the project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in
Washington.

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