A Mars first! Curiosity drills into bedrock

Feb. 09, 2013 | 11:04 a.m.
curiosity drill hole A Mars first! Curiosity drills into bedrock

The drill hole by Curiosity is seen at center. In preparation for the center hole, Curiosity drilled the shallower hole at right, but the sample was taken from the deeper hole. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

curiosity drill area A Mars first! Curiosity drills into bedrock

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity used its Mast Camera (Mastcam) to take the images combined into this mosaic of the drill area, called John Klein. "Drill" shows where the rover did its first sample drilling. The mosaic shows the four targets considered for drilling. 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. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

curiosity self portrait at john klein A Mars first! Curiosity drills into bedrock

This rectangular version of a self-portrait of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity combines dozens of exposures taken by the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on Feb. 3. The rover is at the patch of flat outcrop called John Klein. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

For the first time, a robot has drilled into a rock on Mars and collected a sample, and scientists are patting themselves on the back.  The likelihood of high-fives also is extremely high.

The Curiosity rover has extended its robotic arm and used the drill carried there to bore a hole 0.63 inches wide and 2.5 inches deep into John Klein, as the Martian rock was dubbed. Within that hole, scientists believe, is evidence of the wet environments that existed on Mars eons ago.

But the successful use of the drill alone has scientists in a tizzy. This means that Curiosity is “a fully operating analytical laboratory on Mars,” said John Grunsfeld, with NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, in a news release.

“This is the biggest milestone accomplishment for the Curiosity team since the sky-crane landing last August,” he said.

Twitter geeks were applauding:  “Holey Mars exploration Batman!” tweeted Sustainable2.

Mission project manager Richard Cook said in January that the drilling was the most significant engineering that the team has done since landing.

As the Los Angeles Times’ Amina Khan reported, Cook said the terrain was a big unknown and, thus, a big challenge. The area Curiosity rolled into is known as Yellowknife Bay, a place very different from the landing site at Gale Crater.

“It’s like we entered a whole different world,” said mission lead scientist John Grotzinger.

Developing the tools to tackle “unpredictable rocks” in unknown terrain required a lot of painstaking work beforehand, said Louise Jandura in Saturday’s news release.

Jandura, of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada-Flintridge, said, “To get to the point of making this hole in a  rock on Mars, we made eight drills and bored more than 1,200 holes in 20 types of rock on Earth.”

Now, for the analysis.  On the ground, controllers will orchestrate the steps to process the sample.  The powder created during the drilling travels up flues on the drill bit.  Chambers in the bit assembly hold the powder until it is transferred to the Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis device. But you can call it CHIMRA.   Inside the sample-handling device, the powder is vibrated across a sieve that screens out the all but particles six-thousandths of an inch or smaller. Portions of the sieved sample fall through ports into the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) and Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instruments, NASA says.

Then the detailed analysis starts.

By the way, the rock targeted in this momentous Martian occasion was named in honor of Mars Science Laboratory deputy project manager John Klein, who died in 2011.

— Amy Hubbard



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21 Responses to A Mars first! Curiosity drills into bedrock

  1. hahaha says:

    LMAO I like how you chose a porn star's tweet for the Twitter embed. Classy, LA Times.

  2. slightlycrazy says:


  3. arum seconder says:

    so cool! mad props to the JPL team

  4. wardkendall says:

    This is exciting news. Perhaps evidence of past life will be detected in the core sample, if the explorer has the means.

    Ward Kendall
    author of the Martian sci-fi adventure "Hold Back This Day" (amazon.com)

  5. rick says:

    Beyond awesome! Brilliant achievement! What is being accomplished on Mars was strictly science fiction not that long ago…

  6. mike says:

    what a complete waste of money.

    • james betz says:

      Definitely. We could invade another country that no one has heard of, and that has done nothing to us, for what this mission costs.

      Congratulations guys. You are making planetary history. This is what science is about.

  7. Brad says:


  8. Nexus says:

    Lol. Was that an intentional use of a porn star's tweet? (that itself sounds dirty) @tera1patrick

  9. Gayle says:

    Cool! I'm just waiting for them to uncover the first fossil.

  10. Diagio says:

    Ironical! The science & engineering community that has labored long & diligently on the frontier of myriad unknowns to bring this project to a, thus far success, seems slapped in the face by mediocre journalism. Why would you not report an estimate of when the analysis results could be expected and what, specifically, is the analysis targeting?

  11. Bob Cissna says:

    I wish to congratulate the entire team at Nasa et al. Given the extreme cold temperatures the
    chance for a snapped drill bit must be unbelieveable high. Lets cross our collective figures
    the samples can be easily diagnosed. Thanks again for all your hard work.

  12. Chris says:

    Amazing, can't wait to see what else is discovered!

  13. Ben says:

    I applaud good science whenever I see it, & this certainly appears to be in that category.

  14. @pdhn8580 says:

    If only they would explain the complexity of going to mars and drilling a hole, maybe people would find it more exciting or at least understand the difficulty. Getting to mars alone and landing is hard enough, drilling in an environment with completely different gravity and atmosphere is another.
    1. Gravity is much lower, you cant press down with the forces you could on earth and expect the same result. Maybe you lift up the rover instead of drilling down.
    2. What your drilling into is a bit unknown, making it harder to determine what to make the drill material out of let alone its configuration (# of flutes, rpm, drill feed rate)
    3. Powering a drill is a whole different scenario, you cant just plug it into a wall outlet.
    4. How do you cool it, or is it even needed?
    5. Analyzing the material that you drill and collect, don't even know how they do that.

    So many unknowns that while the idea of drilling 2.5 inches may seem simple but it also answers and verifies so many questions. Anyone who thinks its simple has never actually tried to solve a problem from scratch.

  15. Ben says:

    Hollwood soundstage. ;-)

  16. Terry Dactyl says:

    Drill baby, Drill! I knew it, they went to all this trouble so as to set up the first test drill for oil. Listen guys, just 17 more holes and you could also have the first inter-panetary golf course – Just think, instead of calling FOUR! The rovers (appropriately fitted with a no.2 driver, could call …. MAARRRSS!

  17. Robert says:

    Too cool!
    Robert vaughn Herndon IS Black Sunshine

  18. MK_NASAFan says:

    In a related story, little green men were seen scurrying from the hole and heading up the hill to find a new spot. NASA quickly edited the video feed and sent it by courier to Roswell…

  19. Richie says:

    a lot of hard work, well done to everybody involved

  20. mitchbird says:

    @Richie who said >> a lot of hard work, well done to everybody involved
    I'd just like to add that does include the porn star who made the tweet mentioned in the article. Its a big world and there is room enough for all of us :)

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