Curiosity Drills Into Martian Rock For The First Time

By Sean Kane email: , Feb 05, 2013 10:59 AM EST

For the first time since arriving on the Red Planet in August, NASA's Curiosity rover has drilled into a Martian rock. The drilling was conducted as a test run that was conducted on Jan. 31 and Feb. 2, and the first images of the test were beamed back to Earth over the weekend.

Using its robot arm, the Mars rover drilled a few millimeters into flat rock containing hydrated mineral veins in the Yellowknife Basin. While drilling into the rock outcrop, the vibrations removed a layer of rust colored soil, exposing a vein of white material that could be calcium sulfate.

"This area is really rich with all the cracks in the rocks and the veins. It's really fabulous," said Dr. Jim Green, Director of NASA Planetary Sciences Division at NASA Headquarters in an interview with Universe Today. "The landing was an engineering feat that enabled us to do all this great science that comes next."

Drilling into rocks is one of the many experiments the car-sized rover is conducting to determine whether the Martian environment was ever hospitable to microbial life. NASA's previous Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity have successfully scraped at rocks on Mars, but Curiosity is the first equipped with a penetrating drill, as well as sample collecting equipment and analysis instruments. Curiosity is capable of drilling two inches into rock, and will be able to deliver powdered samples half the size of an aspirin tablet back to the SAM and CheMin analytical labs in the rover.

During this test, Curiosity's drill was only used in percussion mode, hammering the rock like a chisel. In upcoming exercises, the rover will use its 5/8 inch wide drill bit to actually bore holes. Soon, the rover will drill into the interior of a Martian rock and collect and analyze the first ever sample of untouched Martian rock material.

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