Curiosity Mars rover takes historic drill sample

Drill holes The two holes drilled at John Klein. The test hole (R) is 16mm wide and 20mm deep. The sample hole (L) is 64mm deep. A volume of the grey powder has been picked up and will be sent for analysis

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Nasa's Curiosity Mars rover has finally drilled deep enough into a rock to acquire a powdered sample for analysis.

The fine grey material from the 6cm-hole will be sieved and inspected before being delivered to the robot's onboard labs in the coming days.

It will represent a historic first in planetary exploration - never before has the interior of a rock on another world been probed in such a way.

The US space agency said the drilling was an immense achievement.

"This is the biggest milestone accomplishment for the Curiosity team since the sky-crane landing last August, another proud day for America," said John Grunsfeld, Nasa's associate administrator for science.

Drilling is absolutely central to the rover's mission in Gale Crater, a deep bowl sited on Mars' equator.

Curiosity is investigating whether past environments at this location could ever have supported life, and getting inside rocks to analyse their make-up will provide some of the most telling evidence.

Engineers have waited a full six months before deploying the drill tool, which is held on the end of the rover's 2.2m-long robotic arm.

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Mars Rover

Its first action was just to hammer down briefly on a rock target last weekend - a simple check to prove the machinery was behaving as it should.

This was followed in the week by the drill turning in the chosen rock to cut a shallow, 2cm hole.

It produced a fine powder that engineers deemed suitable to try to pick up. So, the command was given to drill a second hole that was deep enough to push some cuttings into the tool's sample acquisition chamber.

Some of this material will be used to scrub the machinery's innards of any contamination that may have travelled with the rover from Earth.

The rest will be sorted to a size and volume that can be put inside Curiosity's Chemin and Sam labs.

These instruments will determine the rock sample's precise chemistry and mineralogy, and identify any interesting carbon chemistry that may be present.

Chemin will likely set to work on the powder first. This is because its findings can influence the settings run in the Sam experiments.

"We may alter our temperatures depending on what they see in Chemin," Paul Mahaffy, the principal investigator on Sam, told the BBC on Friday.

The flat slabs of rock currently being investigated by the rover have been dubbed "John Klein", the name of a Curiosity engineer who died in 2011. They lie in a small depression referred to as Yellowknife Bay, about half a kilometre from the robot's point of touchdown last year.

The rocks contain very fine-grained sediments but are cut through with pale veins of what could be calcium sulphate.

Curiosity has already seen plenty of evidence for past running water in Gale Crater and the results from the drill-hole analysis are expected to reveal further information about that wet history.

Panorama from Sol 169 This mosaic assembled by Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo gives a wider context for drilling operations at John Klein in Yellowknife Bay ( and follow me on Twitter: @BBCAmos


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  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    Of course it's a marvel of engineering, but it worries me that no one ever considers the opportunity cost of science. Science is like an iceberg--a tiny amount of success vs. a huge amount of dead-ends and failure. And, yet, all we hear of, are the few shining successes. So much of science is a staggering waste of resources, and yet our addiction to science fiction disables our rationality.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    I can`t get enough of information about this stunning project, keep the news coming on it Nasa...and the pics..amazing..

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Technically a wonderful achievement but could someone with more knowledge than me explain why it is more than pure research with no application. I realise that much pure research has in the past proven to be of value but this escapes me. Help please.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Science at its best. What is discovered here will fire the imaginations of children, inspiring the next generation of scientist. I wish I could live an extra 100 years to see all the discoveries that are ready to be found.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Just the fact they got the machine there & in full working condition is amazing, everything it does is a massive bonus on top!


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