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 on February 9. 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 is now 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.
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 was still 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."
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.
For images and more information about the mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/msl