Image From Mars Confirms First Ever Drilled Sample

First Posted: Feb 20, 2013 10:34 PM EST

As of today there is visible proof that the first ever rock beyond Earth was successfully drilled, and a sample from its interior obtained. The (included) image showing the sample powder, already transferred into an open scoop, was transmitted from Mars by NASA's rover Curiosity today and received at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.

"Seeing the powder from the drill in the scoop allows us to verify for the first time the drill collected a sample as it bore into the rock," said JPL's Scott McCloskey, drill systems engineer for Curiosity. "Many of us have been working toward this day for years. Getting final confirmation of successful drilling is incredibly gratifying. For the sampling team, this is the equivalent of the landing team going crazy after the successful touchdown."

The drill on Curiosity's robotic arm took in the powder as it bored a 6.4-centimeter hole into a target on flat Martian bedrock on Feb. 8. The plan of action is now to have Curiosity "sieve the sample and deliver portions of it to analytical instruments inside the rover. The scoop now holding the precious sample is part of Curiosity's Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis (CHIMRA) device. During the next steps of processing, the powder will be enclosed inside CHIMRA and shaken once or twice over a sieve that screens out particles larger than 0.006 inch (150 microns) across."

Tiny portions of the sieved sample will then be delivered through inlet ports on top of the rover deck into the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument and Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument later, which will hopefully both work as well as the sampling system.

The sample comes from a fine-grained, veiny sedimentary rock, which was selected for the first sample drilling because it may hold evidence of wet environmental conditions long ago. The rover's laboratory analysis of the powder may provide information about those conditions.

This result will contribute directly to the main objective of the rover: to investigate whether an area within Mars' Gale Crater ever has offered an environment favorable for microbial life.

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