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Curiosity Hammers into First Martian Rock

Feb 05, 2013 07:40 AM EST
With the new year right around the corner, NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has been checking a few things off of its own to-do list, including the completion of a new software upgrade.
(Photo : NASA/JPL-Caltech)

For the first time, NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has used its drill system to hammer into a flat rock with pale veins.

The 1-ton robot hammered into the rock, without rotation, for a brief period of time, reports BBC. The rock lies within a shallow depression called "Yellowknife Bay" inside the Gale Crater. The rock is part of an outcrop named "John Klein" as a tribute to the former Mars Science Laboratory deputy project manager John W. Klein, who died in 2011. The outcrop has light-colored mineral veins, which shows signs of the presence of liquid water in the distant past on Martian soil.

Previous Mars rovers have scrubbed the surface of the Martian soil, but Curiosity is the first rover to have the capability of drilling into the rocks. The rover can drill 1 inch into Martian rock.

"The drilling is going very well so far and we're making great progress with the early steps," said Curiosity project scientist professor John Grotzinger. "The rock is behaving well and it looks pretty soft, so that's encouraging," he told BBC.

The mission team has been taking a step-by-step approach, as using a drill is a complex operation. The team needs to check if the rock and the drill are behaving as expected.

Last week, Curiosity rover carried out some "pre-load" tests, by placing the drill tip on several different locations to find out whether the amount of force applied to the hardware matches with NASA engineers' predictions.

Once the target rock meets the rover engineers' approval to be used for scientific work, a number of test holes will be drilled to create samples, which will be delivered to the rover's onboard laboratories, according to NASA. Drilling deep inside a rock will provide fresh samples that are not altered as a result of weathering and radiation damage.

Curiosity, which landed on Gale Crater last year, is on a two-year mission to find out whether environmental conditions on the planet could have ever supported microbial life.  

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