NASA's Mars rover Curiosity sent back images on Wednesday that confirm it has obtained its first Martian drilling sample. This is not only the first sample drilling ever performed on the Red Planet, but also the first by a rover anywhere off of Earth.
The images, which show powdered rock in Curiosity’s scoop after being transferred from the drilling mechanism, were received at mission control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. On February 8, the unmanned rover bored a 2.5-inch (6.4-cm) hole into a flat rock in the area called “John Klein” after a Mars Science Laboratory deputy project manager who died in 2011. The area was chosen because it may be the site of an ancient wet environment.
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The sample is being examined by mission control to determine if it's safe to use Curiosity's Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis (CHIMRA) device to sieve it, before transferring the powdered rock to the nuclear-powered explorer’s internal laboratories.
This sieving operation consists of using the robotic arm to shake the CHIMRA once or twice while a sieve screens out particles larger than 0.006 inch (150 microns) in diameter. Portions of the sample will then be poured into the input ports on Curiosity’s deck for transfer to the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument and Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument. The operation is slightly different than originally planned in order to reduce vibration, because earthside tests at JPL resulted in the 150-micron screen being shaken loose in two instances.
The day after the first drilling sample was carried out, Curiosity used the laser on its Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument to fire pulses at the fresh rock powder augured up by the drill. This was done to obtain spectra information about the sample collected by Curiosity for a better understanding of its composition.
Now over six months into its two-year mission, Curiosity is traveling across Gale Crater in search of areas where life might have once or could still exist on Mars.
The video below is the latest JPL Curiosity update.