360° Coverage : Mars rover to drill into Martian rock

Mars rover to drill into Martian rock

Curiosity may have killed the cat, with the Mars rover bearing that name preparing to satisfy the curiosity of NASA scientists by drilling into a rock to determine whether the red planet may have at one time had liquid water – a suitable environment for microbial life.

Feb 11 2013, 2:20pm CST | by

Mars rover to drill into Martian rockCuriosity
Photo Credit: NASA

PASADENA, Calif. – Curiosity, NASA's Mars rover, is certainly living up to its name, as it heads for a flat rock with pale veins that may be a sign of a wet history on the red planet.

NASA said the car-sized rover is currently located inside Mars' Gale Crater to investigate the possibility that at one time in its history the environment on Mars may have been amenable for microbial life. Curiosity landed in the crater five months ago to begin a two-year prime mission.

“Drilling into a rock to collect a sample will be this mission's most challenging activity since the landing. It has never been done on Mars,” said Mars Science Laboratory project manager Richard Cook of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “The drill hardware interacts energetically with Martian material we don't control. We won't be surprised if some steps in the process don't go exactly as planned the first time through.”

Curiosity will first gather powdered samples from inside the rock and use those samples to scrub the drill. Next the rover will drill ingest more samples from the rock, which will be analyzed for mineral and chemical composition.

The rock was chosen from an area where the rover's Mast Camera and other cameras have revealed diverse unexpected features, including veins, nodules, cross-bedded layering, a lustrous pebble embedded in sandstone and possibly some holes in the ground.

The rock chosen for drilling is called “John Klein” in tribute to former Mars Science Laboratory deputy project manager John W. Klein, who died in 2011. “John's leadership skill played a crucial role in making Curiosity a reality,” said Cook.

The target is on flat-lying bedrock within a shallow depression called “Yellowknife Bay.” The terrain in this area differs from that of the landing site, a dry streambed about a third of a mile (about 500 meters) to the west. Curiosity's science team decided to look there for a first drilling target because orbital observations showed fractured ground that cools more slowly each night than nearby terrain types do.



<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/19" rel="author">Jeffrey B. Roth</a>
A multi-award winning writer, Jeffrey B. Roth is a well-known investigative reporter, who covers crime, law, politics, sciences, business, medicine, education, history and a wide range of other topics. In 2010, Roth won first place for a new series in the Keystone Press Awards, sponsored by the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association. A published short story writer and poet, Roth is listed in the Locus Index of Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors. Currently, Roth writes for CBS Philadelphia, CBS Baltimore, the Philadelphia Examiner and regional publications, including Carroll Magazine, Carroll Business Quarterly and Hagerstown Magazine to name a few. In the past, Roth, a former crisis intervention counselor and teacher, has written for numerous Pennsylvania newspapers, state and national magazines and the Associated Press. He lives in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, west of Gettysburg, Pa.


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