Mars rover ready for first rock drilling

Jan. 15, 2013 at 6:52 PM
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PASADENA, Calif., Jan. 15 (UPI) -- NASA says its Curiosity rover is driving toward a flat rock that may become the first to be drilled for a sample for the Mars Science Laboratory mission.

The target rock shows pale veins that may hold clues to a wet history on the Red Planet, the space agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., reported Tuesday.

Curiosity landed inside Mars' Gale Crater five months ago to begin its mission to investigate whether the planet ever possessed an environment favorable for microbial life.

"Drilling into a rock to collect a sample will be this mission's most challenging activity since the landing," Mars Science Laboratory project manager Richard Cook at JPL said. "It has never been done on Mars."

The rover will drill and take in samples from the rock and analyze their mineral and chemical composition, he said, a process not without risks.

"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."

The chosen rock is in an area where Curiosity's cameras have revealed diverse unexpected features including veins, nodules, cross-bedded layering, and even a lustrous pebble embedded in sandstone.

"This area had a different type of [previously] wet environment than the stream bed where we landed, maybe a few different types of wet environments," project scientist John Grotzinger said.

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