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Curiosity rover gets ready to drill down into the surface of Mars

Now that Curiosity has seen a couple sights and thoroughly tested out much of its equipment, it’s time to get down to serious business. And that serious business is drilling down into the surface of Mars to see what’s under the hood. And since this will be the first time we’ve ever actually drilled down into a rock on the surface of any planet, this could be a really big deal.

The find has been “a great surprise,” according to Mars Science Laboratory project scientist John Grotzinger, and has just been chosen as Curiosity’s very first drilling target. That’s exciting for a couple of reasons. One: hello, water. Two: the drilling of Mars is regarded by many NASA engineers to be the rover’s most elaborate engineering task since it touched down on the planet back in August.

Cosmic Log’s Alan Boyle gives some background on Curiosity’s drill:

The drill at the end of Curiosity’s 7-foot-long (2.1-meter-long) robotic arm has not yet been used, but mission managers will command it to drill a series of holes going as deep as 2 inches (5 centimeters) into the rock. The first test holes will serve to clean off any leftover earthly contamination, [said Richard Cook, the mission’s project manager]. Grotzinger said the drill will eventually produce scientific samples to be fed into the rover’s onboard chemical labs, known as CheMin and SAM.

“What we’re hoping to do is sample both the vein-filling material as well as what we call the country rock around it,” he said.


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