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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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NASA exercises caution ahead of Curiosity's first drill
BY STEPHEN CLARK
SPACEFLIGHT NOW

Posted: February 5, 2013


Six months after dropping to the surface of Mars suspended under a rocket pack resembling a sci-fi creation, NASA's Curiosity rover is preparing to drill into a slab of rock holding clues of the planet's watery past.


The bit in the rotary-percussion drill of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity left its mark in a target patch of rock called "John Klein" during a test Feb. 2 in preparation for the first drilling of a rock by the rover. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
 
Adopting a deliberate, cautious strategy to ensure the rover's drill is ready, engineers have positioned Curiosity near a rock formation dubbed "John Klein" for a series of tests progressively exercising more of the drill's functions.

Named for Curiosity's late deputy project manager, the outcrop is a flat patch of rock marked with veins of light-colored calcium sulfate materials such as gypsum or bassinite.

"On Earth, forming veins like these requires water circulating in fractures," said Nicolas Mangold of the Laboratoire de Planetologie et Geodynamique de Nantes in France, who works on Curiosity's ChemCam science team.

Beginning in late January, controllers put Curiosity through series of tests to gauge how the rover will react during a drill. Engineers first commanded the rover's drill to press down on four locations on the "John Klein" outcrop to check whether the amount of force applied by the drill matched predictions.

The drill is designed to hammer into rocks and collect material for analysis by the rover's chemical and mineral sensors. It is attached to the end of Curiosity's robot arm and uses percussive and spin motion to bore into rock.

"Drilling into a rock to collect a sample will be this mission's most challenging activity since the landing. It has never been done on Mars," said Richard Cook, Curiosity's project manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

"The drill hardware interacts energetically with Martian material we don't control," Cook said in a statement issued in January. "We won't be surprised if some steps in the process don't go exactly as planned the first time through."

On Saturday, engineers activated the drill for a test run using the device's percussive motion. The drill bit carved a small sliver in the rock about two-thirds of an inch long.

The next step is a "mini-drill" test employing the drill's rotary motion long enough to accumulate a ring of rock powder around a hole. Officials will study the powder to see if it is suitable to be ingested by Curiosity's sample handling mechanisms, according to NASA.


The shape of the tip of the bit in the drill of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity is apparent in this view recorded by the remote micro-imager in the rover's Chemistry and Camera instrument Jan. 29. The bit is about 0.6 inch (1.6 centimeters) wide. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP/LPGNantes/CNRS
 
"We are proceeding with caution in the approach to Curiosity's first drilling," said Daniel Limonadi, lead systems engineer for Curiosity's surface sampling and science system, in a status report posted on NASA's website. "This is challenging. It will be the first time any robot has drilled into a rock to collect a sample on Mars."

The powder samples will be examined by miniature laboratories inside the rover body to determine the material's mineral and chemical composition.

The drill is the last of Curiosity's instruments to be used since it arrived on Mars six months ago.

Curiosity has logged more than 2,300 feet on its odometer since it landed Aug. 6.

The six-wheeled robot is now exploring a region known as "Yellowknife Bay," a shallow pit about two feet deep lying one-third of a mile from the rover's landing site.

Scientists picked the Yellowknife Bay region as Curiosity's first destination because orbital observations showed the area was made of different terrain than the rover's touchdown point.

"The orbital signal drew us here, but what we found when we arrived has been a great surprise," said John Grotzinger, Curiosity's lead scientist, in a statement. "This area had a different type of wet environment than the streambed where we landed, maybe a few different types of wet environments."

Curiosity's ultimate objective is Mount Sharp, a three-mile-high peak in Gale Crater, the ancient impact site where Curiosity landed.

Observations from satellites orbiting Mars show Mount Sharp's foothills could contain clays, which harken to a time when the planet was warmer and wetter.

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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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