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NASA Curiosity rover collects first Martian bedrock sample

11 February 2013

NASA's Curiosity rover has, for the first time, used a drill carried at the end of its robotic arm to bore into a flat, veiny rock on Mars and collect a sample from its interior.

At the center of this image from NASA's Curiosity rover is the first sample drilling on Mars. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

This is the first time any robot has drilled into a rock to collect a sample on Mars. The fresh hole, about 16mm wide and 64mm deep in a patch of fine-grained sedimentary bedrock, can be seen in images and other data Curiosity beamed to Earth on Saturday (February 9). The rock is believed to hold evidence about long-gone wet environments. In pursuit of that evidence, the rover will use its laboratory instruments to analyse rock powder collected by the drill. 

For the next several days, ground controllers will command the rover's arm to carry out a series of steps to process the sample, ultimately delivering portions to the instruments inside. 

Rock powder generated during drilling travels up flutes on the bit. The bit assembly has chambers to hold the powder until it can be transferred to the sample-handling mechanisms of the rover's Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis (CHIMRA) device. 

Before the rock powder is analysed, some will be used to scour traces of material that may have been deposited onto the hardware while the rover was still on Earth, despite thorough cleaning before launch. 

Inside the sample-handling device, the powder will be vibrated once or twice over a sieve that screens out any particles larger than 150 microns across. Small portions of the sieved sample will fall through ports on the rover deck into the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument and the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument. These instruments then will begin the much-anticipated detailed analysis. 


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