NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity collected its first drilling sample on Saturday. The 4x4-sized robot used the drill in its hand to collect samples from the interior of a flat, veiny sedimentary bedrock that was formed by ancient Martian water.
The drill sampling on February 9 is a first in Mars exploration and the last new activity of the planned mission objectives for Curiosity. It came a few days after its equally historic first use of its drill in a test to determine if its system was fully operational. It drilled a hole 0.63 inch (1.6 cm) in diameter and 2.5 inches (6.4 cm) deep in the area “John Klein,” named after a Mars Science Laboratory deputy project manager, who died in 2011.
The next steps for the nuclear-powered explorer will be to begin processing the sample. This will involve sieving out any particles larger than six-thousandths of an inch (150 microns) and then using a portion of it to clean the mechanical path from the drill of any contamination brought from Earth. Curiosity’s Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis (CHIMRA) device will then transfer the sample to the rover’s laboratories.
"Building a tool to interact forcefully with unpredictable rocks on Mars required an ambitious development and testing program," said the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Louise Jandura, chief engineer for Curiosity's sample system. "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 sample collection was part of Curiosity’s two-year mission to seek out areas of the Red Planet where life might have once existed, or could still exist.