Curiosity collects first Martian rock sample

NASA’s Curiosity rover has successfully extracted a sample from a Martian rock – the first ever to be collected from a planet beyond Earth.

The sample comes from a fine-grained, veiny sedimentary rock called John Klein, and it’s hoped that it may hold evidence of wet environmental conditions long ago.

The drill on Curiosity’s robotic arm took in the powder as it bored a 2.5-inch hole into a target on flat Martian bedrock. The sample will now be sieved and delivered to analytical instruments inside the rover.

The powder will now be enclosed inside Curiosity’s Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis (CHIMRA) device and shaken once or twice over a sieve that screens out particles larger than 0.006 inches across.

“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,” says 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.”

Small potions of the sample later will 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.

A problem with a test version of CHIMRA here on Earth has led to a modification of the processing and delivery plan. Thanks to mechanical vibration, the 150-micron screen in one of the two test versions of CHIMRA became partially detached after extensive use, although it remained usable. The team now beleives it can cut down on this vibration.