Testing the drilling technique on Earth is difficult as the Martian surface conditions are very different. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA’s Curiosity rover is back to its old tricks by analysing rock samples on Mars now that one of its onboard laboratories is functioning for the first time in over a year. The last time the rover drilled into the dry Martian soil in order to gather rock samples was back in October 2016.
“This was no small feat. It represents months and months of work by our team to pull this off,” says Jim Erickson, project manager of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission, which is led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, United States. The Curiosity rover is part of the MSL mission. “JPL’s engineers had to improvise a new way for the rover to drill rocks on Mars after a mechanical problem took the drill offline in December 2016.”
On 20 May, Curiosity performed a unique technique called ‘feed-extended drilling’, which allowed the rover to drill into its first rock sample since October 2016. On 31 May, Curiosity underwent a more advanced technique called a ‘feed-extended sample transfer’ successfully, which transferred rock powder to the ...