The Curiosity rover just drilled into a rock on Mars for 1st time since 2016


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NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity simply drilled right into a Pink Planet rock for the primary time in additional than a 12 months.

Curiosity bored a gap about zero.5 inches (1.three centimeters) deep right into a goal rock on Monday (Feb. 26), through the trial run of a brand new, jury-rigged drilling method, NASA officers mentioned.

The car-size rover’s drill — a key instrument on the finish of Curiosity’s robotic arm that enables it to snag pristine samples from the interiors of historical rocks — has been out of fee since late 2016, when a motor that extends two stabilizing posts on both aspect of the drill bit conked out. [Photos: Spectacular Mars Vistas by NASA’s Curiosity Rover]

Engineers have been working for the previous 15 months to deliver the drill again on-line. They’ve settled on a technique that includes extending the bit out past the stabilizers, and punctiliously pushing it towards a rock utilizing Curiosity’s arm. The rover can hold the drill bit centered utilizing a power sensor, mission workforce members mentioned.

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“We’re now drilling on Mars extra like the best way you do at residence,” Curiosity deputy venture supervisor Steven Lee, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, mentioned in a press release. “People are fairly good at re-centering the drill, virtually with out eager about it. Programming Curiosity to do that by itself was difficult — particularly when it wasn’t designed to try this.”

Checks at JPL with Curiosity’s ground-bound twin went effectively, so the mission workforce took the brand new technique into the Martian discipline Monday. The outcomes have been encouraging, NASA officers mentioned, however the drill isn’t again in operational mode but.

For instance, the take a look at gap wasn’t deep sufficient to let Curiosity seize samples. (Throughout its unique run, the rover’s drill routinely bored 2.5 inches, or 6.5 cm, down into rocks.) 

And Curiosity must bag up these samples in a brand new approach any more: With the drill completely prolonged, the rover can’t use the related instrument designed to ship rock powder to 2 highly effective onboard laboratories, referred to as Pattern Evaluation at Mars (SAM) and Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin), NASA officers mentioned. As an alternative, Curiosity will sprinkle the powder from the drill bit into SAM and CheMin.

“This tapping has been efficiently examined right here on Earth — however Earth’s environment and gravity are very totally different from that of Mars,” NASA officers wrote in the identical assertion. “Whether or not rock powder on Mars will fall out in the identical quantity and in a managed approach has but to be seen.”

Curiosity touched down on the ground of the 96-mile-wide (154 kilometers) Gale Crater in August 2012, on a $2.5 billion mission to analyze Mars’ previous means to help microbial life. The rover’s observations rapidly established that Gale harbored a doubtlessly liveable lake-and-stream system within the historical previous.

In September 2014, Curiosity reached the bottom of Mount Sharp, which towers three.four miles excessive (5.5 km) into the Pink Planet’s sky from Gale’s middle. The rover has been working its approach up the mountain ever since, attempting to find clues about Mars’ long-ago transition from a comparatively heat and moist world to an arid, dry planet. 

Curiosity is presently learning a landform known as Vera Rubin Ridge, which lies about 1,000 vertical ft (300 meters) above the crater ground.

To this point, the rover has collected samples utilizing its drill 15 occasions, with the final such exercise occurring in late 2016. Because the drill downside arose, Curiosity has pushed the prolonged bit towards rock as a part of troubleshooting assessments, however Monday’s motion marked the very first drilling utilizing the brand new method, NASA officers mentioned. 

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