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NASA's Curiosity Rover Is Drilling Rocks On Mars Again

May 24, 2018 12:54 AM EDT
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NASA's Curiosity is back in business. With a new drilling technique, it was able to get the first sample of drilling from Mars since 2016.

Since December of 2016, the drill has been plagued with mechanical issues. This has been a huge blow to the mission, which is meant to do a comprehensive study on Mars. Until now.

Curiosity's Drilling Issues, Solutions

According to a report from NASA, the Curiosity team fixed the issue with a new percussive drilling technique dubbed the Feed Extended Drilling, which has the drill extended past stabilizer posts. The drill is then put to work with the power of the robotic arm, which reportedly works similarly to drilling a wall at home.

The new method proved to be a rousing success as the drill able to penetrate roughly 2 inches on the surface, a target that was called Duluth.

"The team used tremendous ingenuity to devise a new drilling technique and implement it on another planet," Steve Lee, JPL's Curiosity Deputy Project Manager, says in a statement. "Those are two vital inches of innovation from 60 million miles away. We're thrilled that the result was so successful."

The Curiosity rover has two laboratories inside that can analyze the chemical and mineralogical properties of collected soil and rock samples.

An Ongoing Process

Of course, even with the successful drilling, the Curiosity mission still has its work cut out for it.

Tom Green, mission scientist, stresses that the job isn't finished just with the collection of the rock samples in Mars.

"With each new test, we closely examine the data to look for improvements we can make and then head back to our testbed to iterate on the process," he continues.

Since the drill broke down, scientists have been eager to get it going to sample a section of Mars' Vera Rubin Ridge, which is purportedly rich in minerals.

"We've purposely driven backwards because the team believes there's high value in drilling a distinct kind of rock that makes up a 200-foot-thick [about 60 meters] layer below the ridge," Ashwin Vasavada, project scientist, tells UPI before the tests began for the new drilling technique.

"Every layer of Mount Sharp reveals a chapter in Mars' history," he continues. "Without the drill, our first pass through this layer was like skimming the chapter. Now we get a chance to read it in detail."

The next test is slated to take place on Friday, May 25.

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