Curiosity Drills Historic 1st Bore Hole into Mars Rock for First Ever Science Analysis

by Ken Kremer on February 9, 2013

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Curiosity Rover snapped this new self portrait mosaic this week with the MAHLI camera while sitting on flat sedimentary rocks at the “John Klein” outcrop where the robot just conducted historic first sample drilling inside the Yellowknife Bay basin, on Feb. 8 (Sol 182) at lower left in front of rover. The photo mosaic was stitched from raw images snapped on Sol 177, or Feb 3, 2013, by the robotic arm camera - accounting for foreground camera distortion. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

Curiosity Rover snapped this new self portrait mosaic this week with the MAHLI camera while sitting on flat sedimentary rocks at the “John Klein” outcrop where the robot just conducted historic first sample drilling inside the Yellowknife Bay basin, on Feb. 8 (Sol 182) at lower left in front of rover. The photo mosaic was stitched from raw images snapped on Sol 177, or Feb 3, 2013, by the robotic arm camera – accounting for foreground camera distortion. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

Earth’s most advanced planetary robot ever has successfully bored into the interior of Martian rock and collected fresh samples in a historic first time feat in humankinds exploration of the cosmos.

NASA’s Curiosity drilled a circular hole about 0.63 inch (16 mm) wide and about 2.5 inches (64 mm) deep into a red slab of fine-grained sedimentary rock rife with hydrated mineral veins of calcium sulfate – and produced a slurry of grey tailings surrounding the hole. The team believes this area repeatedly experienced percolation of flowing liquid water eons ago when Mars was warmer and wetter – and potentially more hospitable to the possible evolution of life.

The precision drilling took place on Friday, Feb. 8, 2013 on Sol 182 of the mission and images were just beamed back to Earth today, Saturday, Feb 9. The rover simultaneously celebrates 6 months on the Red Planet since the nail biting touchdown on Aug. 6, 2012 inside Gale Crater.

The entire rover team is overjoyed beyond compare after nearly a decade of painstakingly arduous efforts to design, assemble, launch and land the Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover that culminated with history’s first ever drilling and sampling into a pristine alien rock on the surface of another planet in our Solar System.

“The most advanced planetary robot ever designed now is a fully operating analytical laboratory on Mars,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate.

“This is the biggest milestone accomplishment for the Curiosity team since the sky-crane landing last August, another proud day for America.”

Drilling goes to the heart of the mission. It is absolutely essential for collecting soil and rock samples to determine their chemical composition and searching for traces of organic molecules – the building blocks of life. The purpose is to elucidate whether Mars ever offered a habitable environment suitable for supporting Martian microbes, past pr present.

The high powered drill was the last of Curiosity’s 10 instruments still to be checked out and put into full operation.

Curiosity's First Sample Drilling hole is seen in this image at a rock called "John Klein". The drilling took place on Feb. 8, 2013, or Sol 182 of operations. Several preparatory activities with the drill preceded this operation, including a test that produced the shallower hole on the right two days earlier, but the deeper hole resulted from the first use of the drill for rock sample collection. The image was obtained by Curiosity's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI). The sample-collection hole is 0.63 inch (1.6 centimeters) in diameter and 2.5 inches (6.4 centimeters) deep. The "mini drill" test hole near it is the same diameter, with a depth of 0.8 inch (2 centimeters).  Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity’s First Sample Drilling hole is seen in this image at a rock called “John Klein”. The drilling took place on Feb. 8, 2013, or Sol 182 of operations. Several preparatory activities with the drill preceded this operation, including a test that produced the shallower hole on the right two days earlier, but the deeper hole resulted from the first use of the drill for rock sample collection. The image was obtained by Curiosity’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI). The sample-collection hole is 0.63 inch (1.6 centimeters) in diameter and 2.5 inches (6.4 centimeters) deep. The “mini drill” test hole near it is the same diameter, with a depth of 0.8 inch (2 centimeters). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The rover plunged the rotary-percussion drill located on the end of her 7 foot (2.1 m) robot arm into a flat outcrop of rocks named “John Klein”; where she is currently toiling away inside a shallow basin named Yellowknife Bay, and that witnessed many episodes of streaming water billions of years ago.

Ground controllers will now command the rover to pulverize and sieve the powdery rocky material through screens that will filter out any particles larger than six-thousandths of an inch (150 microns) across.

Thereafter comes the ultimate test – when the processed Martian powders are delivered by the robot arm to Curiosity’s miniaturized CheMin and SAM analytical labs though a trio of inlet ports located atop the rover deck for thorough analysis and scrutiny.

Curiosity used its Mast Camera (Mastcam) to take the images combined into this mosaic of the drill area, called "John Klein." The label "Drill" indicates where the rover ultimately performed its first sample drilling. Shown on this mosaic are the four targets that were considered for drilling, all of which were analyzed by Curiosity's instrument suite. At "Brock Inlier," data from the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) and images from the Mars Hand Lens imager (MAHLI) were collected. The target "Wernecke" was brushed by the Dust Removal Tool (DRT) with complementary APXS, MAHLI, and Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) analyses. Target "Thundercloud" was the subject of the drill checkout test known as "percuss on rock." The target Drill was interrogated by APXS, MAHLI and ChemCam. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity used its Mast Camera (Mastcam) to take the images combined into this mosaic of the drill area, called “John Klein.” The label “Drill” indicates where the rover ultimately performed its first sample drilling. Shown on this mosaic are the four targets that were considered for drilling, all of which were analyzed by Curiosity’s instrument suite. At “Brock Inlier,” data from the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) and images from the Mars Hand Lens imager (MAHLI) were collected. The target “Wernecke” was brushed by the Dust Removal Tool (DRT) with complementary APXS, MAHLI, and Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) analyses. Target “Thundercloud” was the subject of the drill checkout test known as “percuss on rock.” The target Drill was interrogated by APXS, MAHLI and ChemCam. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“We commanded the first full-depth drilling, and we believe we have collected sufficient material from the rock to meet our objectives of hardware cleaning and sample drop-off,” said Avi Okon, drill cognizant engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena.

Rock tailings generated from the 5/8 inch (16 mm) wide drill bit traveled up narrow flutes on the bit and then inside the drill’s chambers for transfer to the process handling mechanisms on the arm’s tool turret.

“We’ll take the powder we acquired and swish it around to scrub the internal surfaces of the drill bit assembly,” said JPL’s Scott McCloskey, drill systems engineer. “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.”

A portion of the material will first be used to scour and cleanse the labyrinth of processing chambers of trace contaminants possibly brought from Earth before launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida back in Nov. 2011.

Curiosity accomplished Historic 1st drilling into Martian rock at John Klein outcrop on Feb 8, 2013 (Sol 182), shown in this context mosaic view of the Yellowknife Bay basin taken on Jan. 26 (Sol 169) where the robot is currently working. The robotic arm is pressing down on the surface at John Klein outcrop of veined hydrated minerals - dramatically back dropped with  her ultimate destination; Mount Sharp.  Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo

Curiosity accomplished Historic 1st drilling into Martian rock at John Klein outcrop on Feb 8, 2013 (Sol 182), shown in this context mosaic view of the Yellowknife Bay basin taken on Jan. 26 (Sol 169) where the robot is currently working. The robotic arm is pressing down on the surface at John Klein outcrop of veined hydrated minerals – dramatically back dropped with her ultimate destination; Mount Sharp. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)/Marco Di Lorenzo

The rock Curiosity drilled is called “John Klein” in memory of a Mars Science Laboratory deputy project manager who died in 2011.

Curiosity represents a quantum leap in capability beyond any prior landed mission on the Red Planet. The car sized 1 ton rover sports 10 state-of-the-art science instruments from the US and collaborators in Europe.

The 1 ton robot will continue working for several additional weeks investigating Yellowknife Bay and the Glenelg area – which lies at the junction of three different types of geologic terrain.

Thereafter, the six-wheeled mega rover will set off on a nearly year long trek to her main destination – the sedimentary layers of the lower reaches of the 3 mile (5 km) high mountain named Mount Sharp – some 6 miles (10 km) away.

Ken Kremer

What a hole on Mars ! Alien hole on an Alien Planet. Curiosity precisely bores to a depth of 2.5 inches (64 mm) into water altered rock. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

What a hole on Mars ! Alien hole on an Alien Planet. Curiosity precisely bores to a depth of 2.5 inches (64 mm) into water altered rock. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Side view of Curiosity’s Drill Bit Tip. The bit is about 0.6 inch (1.6 centimeters) wide. This view from the remote micro-imager of the ChemCam instrument merges three exposures taken by the camera at different focus settings to show more of the hardware in focus than would be seen in a single exposure.  Images taken on Sol 172, Jan 29, 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP/LPGNantes/CNRS

Side view of Curiosity’s Drill Bit Tip. The bit is about 0.6 inch (1.6 centimeters) wide. This view from the remote micro-imager of the ChemCam instrument merges three exposures taken by the camera at different focus settings to show more of the hardware in focus than would be seen in a single exposure. Images taken on Sol 172, Jan 29, 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP/LPGNantes/CNRS

About 

Dr. Ken Kremer is a speaker, scientist, freelance science journalist (Princeton, NJ) and photographer whose articles, space exploration images and Mars mosaics have appeared in magazines, books, websites and calanders including Astronomy Picture of the Day, NBC, BBC, SPACE.com, Spaceflight Now and the covers of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Spaceflight and the Explorers Club magazines. Ken has presented at numerous educational institutions, civic & religious organizations, museums and astronomy clubs. Ken has reported first hand from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral and NASA Wallops on over 40 launches including 8 shuttle launches. He lectures on both Human and Robotic spaceflight - www.kenkremer.com

Aqua4U February 9, 2013 at 11:51 PM

This is just so WAY double extra groovy cool! Another success! YES! I can’t wait to see the results from this historic ‘milestone’! HOW hard is that rock? WHAT is the composition? Hello!!! (Gone now to the MSL ‘raw images’ page!)

P.S. Thanks for being there for us on the weekend Ken.. you ROCK too!

Ken Kremer February 10, 2013 at 12:24 AM

Thanks ! we’ll find out more in coming sols. enjoy !

Jeffrey Scott Boerst February 11, 2013 at 10:39 PM

“‘…deep into a red slab of fine-grained sedimentary rock…”
I hate to be anal, but the rock is actually grey as reported on last week’s Space hangout from CosmoQuest and covered in red dust. GREAT article though. This is EPIC! Amazing how most people have no idea how fast and quickly we’re headed to the sky. So under the mainstream radar. I’m glad UT and CosmoQuest and Planetary Society are all helping popularize space science! Thanks, all!

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