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Curiosity to Take First Scoop of Martian Soil For Analysis

Oct 05, 2012 08:22 AM EDT

Curiosity rover is all set to pick up the first soil samples from the Martian surface. This will be a significant step and it will detect whether the environment on Mars is favorable for life.

The rover is currently located in an area called known as Rocknest, which offers more samples for probing. It has already begun preparations to take the first scoop of soil samples for further tests and analysis, announced NASA.

"We now have reached an important phase that will get the first solid samples into the analytical instruments in about two weeks," said Mission Manager Michael Watkins of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

"Curiosity has been so well-behaved that we have made great progress during the first two months of the mission," he said.

Tests like mineral analysis to find out previous environment conditions and chemical analysis to check if the samples have elements supporting microbial life will be performed. In order to get fresh soil materials, the rover scraped the soil on the red planet using its wheels Wednesday.

Curiosity will be using various instruments such as the robotic soil scooper and the hammering drill to collect the rock samples, powder it and send it for further analysis.

The rover will scoop the soil two times so as to shake it well in a sample-processing chamber and scrub the internal surfaces. When it scoops for the third time, the samples will be placed on an observatory tray to be checked by rover's mast camera. Some samples will be sent for further analysis of the mineral and chemical composition using rover's chemistry and mineralogy (CheMin) instrument.

The samples obtained using fourth analysis will be sent to both CheMin and another instrument called sample analysis at Mars (SAM) for probing the chemical elements in the soil.

"We're going to take a close look at the particle size distribution in the soil here to be sure it's what we want," said Daniel Limonadi of JPL, lead systems engineer for Curiosity's surface sampling and science system.

"We are being very careful with this first time using the scoop on Mars," he said.

Curiosity is currently about 100 meters away from the Glenelg area, a site where three different terrains intersect. The car-sized rover landed Aug. 5 and is on a two-year mission to find whether the environmental conditions could have supported microbial life.

The rover's final destination will be Mount Sharp on Gale Crater, where the sand composition is different.

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