NASA's Mars Curiosity rover successfully drills rock sample

Mindy Sparks
May 25, 2018

NASA engineers are not sure how much of the powder will remain inside the drill while it will be retracted into the rover.

Drilling is a vital part of Curiosity's $2.5 billion mission, which is investigating Mars' past potential to host life and how the Red Planet's climate has changed over time.

The most appealing of these alternate drilling methods keeps the drill bit extended beyond the supporting posts then presses it into the rock utilizing force supplied by the robotic arm.

"The team used tremendous ingenuity to devise a new drilling technique and implement it on another planet", said in a statement Curiosity Deputy Project Manager Steve Lee of JPL. "We're thrilled that the result was so successful", he added. Curiosity's handlers had to come up with a plan to get the drill back online, so they invented a totally new way for the rover to use its drill on Martian rocks, and against all odds it actually seems to be working.

While Curiosity likely has at least several years left on Mars, it did run into some trouble back in 2016 when its drilling tool broke down due to a technical glitch.

Interest showed the brand-new strategy in a restricted style previously this year, tiring about 0.5 inches (1.3 cm) into a various Mars rock.

That hole, about two inches deep and just over half an inch wide, cracked into a rock Curiosity's guides call Duluth. This image, captured by Curiosity's Mast Camera, is white balanced and contrast enhanced.

Engineers say that despite the success of the new drilling technique, they still have work to do.

As we speak, according to NASA, the Mars Curiosity Rover is now making its way uphill along the Vera Rubin Ridge that is estimated to be loaded with red rocks that are likely to be filled with hematite, an iron dioxide that is only created in the presence of water. Sunday's drill sample represents a quick taste of the region before Curiosity moves on. But that doesn't mean the work is over for engineers at JPL.

"We've been developing this new drilling technique for over a year, but our job isn't done once a sample has been collected on Mars", said Tom Green, a systems engineer at JPL who helped develop and test Curiosity's new drilling method. The team will continue to look at the data to determine where improvements can be made and will continue testing drilling techniques. DSN antennas are also used to transmit information to spacecraft and play an important role for mission navigation teams.

The problem with the rover's drill was that a faulty motor prevented the drill head from extending and retracting between two stabilizers that pushed against the ground when operation began.

The next challenges will involve fine-tuning the new process and delivering rock powder to the rover's on-board laboratories for analysis.

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