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The Mission




Mission: Mars Science Lab
Rocket: Atlas 5 (AV-028)
Launch: Nov. 26, 2011 @ 10:02am EST (1502 GMT)
Landing: Aug. 6, 2012 @ 1:32am EDT (0532 GMT)
Site: Base of Mount Sharp in Gale Crater

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Curiosity drill delivers first sample in major milestone
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: February 20, 2013


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The Curiosity rover's powerful impact drill has successfully collected its first subsurface sample, about a tablespoon of powdered rock that will be fed into the spacecraft's on-board laboratory instruments for detailed chemical analysis, project officials said Wednesday.


Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
 
The drill is the last major system on the rover to be tested since landing in Gale Crater last August and the successful collection of subsurface material marks a major milestone in Curiosity's quest to find signs of past or present habitability.

"Curiosity's first drill hole at the john Klein site is a historic moment for the MSL (Mars Science Laboratory) mission," said Louise Jandura, chief engineer of Curiosity's sample system. "This is the first time any robot, fixed or mobile, has drilled into a rock to collect a sample on Mars.

"In fact, this is the first time any rover has drilled into a rock to collect a sample anywhere but on Earth. In the five-decade history of the space age, this is indeed a rare event."

The drill, mounted on the end of Curiosity's robot arm, was used to bore 2.5 inches into a rock for the first time on Feb. 8. Photographs beamed back to Earth Wednesday showed a sample of pulverized light gray rock collected from the interior of the target bedrock resting in a scoop on the rover.

The scoop is part of Curiosity's Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis, or CHIMRA. Over the next few days, the sample will be vibrated over a sieve to screen out any particles larger than 150 microns across, or six-thousandths of an inch.

A portion of the fine-grained result will be delivered to the Chemistry and Mineralogy, or CheMin, suite of instruments for a detailed chemical analysis. Another set of instruments, known as the Sample Analysis at Mars, or SAM, package is designed to look for signs of organic compounds like those necessary for life as it is known on Earth.

"Seeing the powder from the drill in the scoop allows us to verify for the first time that the drill successfully acquired sample as it was boring down into the rock," said Scott McCloskey, rover planner and drill systems engineer. "We estimate that we collected about a tablespoon of powder, which meets our expectations and is a great result. We're all very happy to get this confirmation and relieved that the drilling was a complete success."

So far, Curiosity is chalking up a near flawless record with no technical problems of any significance.

But engineers have decided to change the way they operate the rover's sample acquisition system in the wake of problems with welds on a test unit sieve at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The problem showed up only after extensive operation and troubleshooters concluded the unit could successfully operate for a full year longer than Curiosity's planned two-year mission. A second test unit showed no signs of trouble and the sieve aboard Curiosity is working normally.

But engineers opted to take a conservative approach, deciding to operate Curiosity's sieve hardware only when absolutely necessary.

"Given this kind of reason to be cautious, based on what our test program is telling us that hey, there might be an issue here, it may or may not apply to flight, we're taking the conservative tack," said Daniel Limonadi, lead systems engineer for Curiosity's surface sampling and science system.

"We're reducing the amount of wear and tear we're putting on the hardware. We've shortened our sieving time ... to help minimize whatever might be going on and extend its life."

Joel Hurowitz, sampling system scientist for Curiosity, said the science team is eager to finally get the opportunity to examine rock samples that have not been subjected to surface weathering.

"This drilling operation we just completed allows us to get beneath the surface and analyze for the first time rock samples that have not been exposed to the effects of the martian surface environment and truly understand the chemistry and mineralogy of a martial rock," he said.

"The science team is just super excited to find out what CheMin and SAM will have to say about the mineralogy and chemistry of this material and what it means for the geologic history and habitability of Gale Crater."

Jandura said the ability to drill is a major step forward in the Mars exploration program.

"It allows us to go beyond the surface layer of the rock, unlocking a kind of time capsule of evidence about the state of Mars going back three or four billion years," she said. "Because the drill's on a rover, the rock choices are plentiful."

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Additional coverage for subscribers:
VIDEO: THE MARS SCIENCE LAB FULL LAUNCH EXPERIENCE PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ATLAS 5 ROCKET LAUNCHES MARS SCIENCE LAB PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ONBOARD CAMERA VIEW OF NOSE CONE JETTISON PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ONBOARD CAMERA VIEW OF THE STAGING EVENT PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ONBOARD VIEW OF ROCKET RELEASING MSL PLAY
VIDEO: LAUNCH DECLARED A SUCCESS PLAY

VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: OUR VIEW OF LIFTOFF PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: VAB ROOF PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: PATRICK AFB PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: SOUTH OF THE PAD PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: THE BEACH TRACKER PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: SHUTTLE PAD CAMERA PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: SHUTTLE WATER TOWER PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: TRACKER WEST OF THE PAD PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: CLOSE-UP ON UMBILICALS PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: COMPLEX 41 VIF PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: THE PRESS SITE PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: PRE-LAUNCH INTERVIEW WITH PROJECT MANAGER PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: NARRATED PREVIEW OF ATLAS 5 ASCENT PROFILE PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ROCKET'S LAUNCH CAMPAIGN HIGHLIGHTS PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: MSL'S LAUNCH CAMPAIGN HIGHLIGHTS PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: SPACECRAFT CLEANROOM TOUR PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: ATLAS ROCKET ROLLS OUT TO LAUNCH PAD PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: TIME-LAPSE VIEWS OF ROCKET ROLLOUT PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: THE PRE-LAUNCH NEWS CONFERENCE PLAY
VIDEO: CURIOSITY ROVER SCIENCE BRIEFING PLAY
VIDEO: LOOKING FOR LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE PLAY
VIDEO: WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT THE RED PLANET PLAY
VIDEO: ROBOTICS AND HUMANS TO MARS TOGETHER PLAY

VIDEO: PREVIEW OF ENTRY, DESCENT AND LANDING PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: PREVIEW OF CURIOSITY ROVER EXPLORING MARS PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: A FLYOVER OF THE GALE CRATER LANDING SITE PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: NUCLEAR GENERATOR HOISTED TO ROVER PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: MARS SCIENCE LAB MOUNTED ATOP ATLAS 5 PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: MOVING MSL TO ATLAS ROCKET HANGAR PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: SPACECRAFT PLACED ABOARD TRANSPORTER PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: APPLYING MISSION LOGOS ON THE FAIRING PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: MSL ENCAPSULATED IN ROCKET'S NOSE CONE PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: FINAL LOOK AT SPACECRAFT BEFORE SHROUDING PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: HEAT SHIELD INSTALLED ONTO SPACECRAFT PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: BEAUTY SHOTS OF SPACECRAFT PACKED UP PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ATTACHING THE RING-LIKE CRUISE STAGE PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: PARACHUTE-EQUIPPED BACKSHELL INSTALLED PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: SKYCRANE AND CURIOSITY MATED TOGETHER PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: TWO-HALVES OF ROCKET NOSE CONE ARRIVES PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: CENTAUR UPPER STAGE HOISTED ATOP ATLAS PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: FINAL SOLID ROCKET BOOSTER ATTACHED PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: FIRST OF FOUR SOLID BOOSTERS MOUNTED PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: FIRST STAGE ERECTED ON MOBILE LAUNCHER PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: STAGES DRIVEN FROM HARBOR TO THE ASOC PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ROCKET ARRIVES ABOARD SEA-GOING VESSEL PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: STOWING ROVER'S INSTRUMENTED ROBOT ARM PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: DEPLOYING CURIOSITY'S SIX WHEELS ON EARTH PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: MMRTG PUT BACK INTO STORAGE AT SPACEPORT PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: NUCLEAR GENERATOR FIT-CHECK ON THE ROVER PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ROVER'S NUCLEAR POWER SOURCE ARRIVES PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: SPIN-TESTING THE RING-LIKE CRUISE STAGE PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: UNCOVERING CURIOSITY ROVER IN CLEANROOM PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: UNVEILING THE ROCKET-POWERED SKYCRANE PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: UNBOXING THE ROVER FROM SHIPPING CRATE PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ROVER HAULED FROM RUNWAY TO PHSF FACILITY PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: MARS ROVER ARRIVES AT KENNEDY SPACE CENTER PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: DESCENT WEIGHTS INSTALLED ON BACKSHELL PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: SOLAR ARRAY PANELS ATTACHED TO CRUISE RING PLAY | HI-DEF
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