Curiosity rover uses robotic arm to drill into Martian rock

NASA reports the Curiosity rover has successfully drilled a hole, 0.63 inches wide and 2.5 inches deep into a sample of sedimentary bedrock. Ground control will now use the rover's robotic arm to collect samples for processing in its self contained laboratory, looking for evidence Mars may have once harbored water.

The agency released a photo of the hole captured by Curiosity, and in a press release NASA's associate administrator for the agency's Science Mission Directorate, John Grunsfeld said, "The most advanced planetary robot ever designed is now a fully operating analytical laboratory on Mars."

The first full-depth drilling generated rock powder that traveled up flutes in the bit and were held by chambers in the assembly for processing. Before the dust can be analysed, a portion of it will be used to clean the assembly, scouring away any potential contamination from Earth bound surfaces.

"We'll take the powder we acquired and swish it around to scrub the internal surfaces of the drill bit assembly," said JPL's Scott McCloskey, drill systems engineer in the NASA release. "Then we'll use the arm to transfer the powder out of the drill into the scoop, which will be our first chance to see the acquired sample."

Once inside the rover's Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis (CHIMRA) sample handling device, the Martian dust will undergo vibrations over a sieve that will trap larger particles. The smallest particles will fall through ports on the rover's deck to the Chemistry and Mineralogy and Sample Analysis at Mars instruments which will perform the in-depth analysis.

The successful drill test on Mars was the result of extensive work back here on Earth. The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Louise Jandura, chief engineer for Curiosity's sample system described the process: 

"Building a tool to interact forcefully with unpredictable rocks on Mars required an ambitious development and testing program. To get to the point of making this hole in a rock on Mars, we made eight drills and bored more than 1,200 holes in 20 types of rock on Earth."

The rock that was drilled was named "John Klein" in memory of a Mars Science Laboratory deputy project manager who died in 2011.

NASA, via Reuters