NASA’s Curiosity Collects First Bedrock Sample On Mars


NASA Curiosity

For the first time, the Curiosity Rover, using its robotic arm, has drilled a whole and collected a sample of Martian Bedrock.  The whole, measuring about 0.63 inch (1.6 centimeters) wide and 2.5 inches (6.4 centimeters), according to the NASA website, can be seen in images sent back to earth from Curiosity.  The rock powder collected by the rover should help in determining the long gone, wet environment of Mars.  John Grunsfeld,  NASA associate administrator for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate said, “The most advanced planetary robot ever designed is now a fully operating analytical laboratory on Mars.”  He continued, “This is the biggest milestone accomplishment for the Curiosity team since the sky-crane landing last August, another proud day for America.”  Following the collection of the samples, NASA scientists must now tell the rover to process the samples by apportioning them to the instruments inside.  While it seems like a fairly straightforward process, measures have to be taken before analyzing the powder.  For example, according to Scott McCloskey, drill systems engineer from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, some of the rock dust “will be used to scour traces of material that may have been deposited onto the hardware while the rover was still on Earth, despite thorough cleaning before launch.”  NASA scientists must ensure there is no contamination which would skew the results. “We’ll take the powder we acquired and swish it around to scrub the internal surfaces of the drill bit assembly.  Then we’ll use the arm to transfer the powder out of the drill into the scoop, which will be our first chance to see the acquired sample.”  Once the sample is set, it will be placed over a sieve that will screen out any particles that are larger than six-thousandths of an inch (150 microns) across.  Those tiny particles will then fall in to the “Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument” and the “Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument.” These instruments will then begin the much-anticipated detailed analysis.  What Curiosity is accomplishing on the red planet is nothing short of miraculous.  The distance from Earth to Mars can be a far as 249 million miles (401 million km).  It demonstrates that despite much controversy and skepticism surrounding NASA recently, the US remains at the forefront of interplanetary exploration.

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