The Curiosity rover has now drilled its second hole in a flat piece of Martian bedrock and obtained a sample for analysis by its on-board laboratory. This is the first time ever that such a drilling has been done on Mars.
A few days ago, Curiosity drilled its first hole as a “mini-drill test” but did not collect any sample material that time. This second hole is deeper than the first, about 6.4 centimetres (2.5 inches), but about the same width as the first one, at 1.6 centimetres (0.63 inches) across.
As John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator for the NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, explains, “The most advanced planetary robot ever designed is now a fully operating analytical laboratory on Mars. This is the biggest milestone accomplishment for the Curiosity team since the sky-crane landing last August, another proud day for America.”
Before the sample can be analyzed, some of the material will be used to “scrub” the internal areas of the drill bit assembly, to make sure it is clean and free of any contaminants which may still be there from when Curiosity was still on Earth.
The rest of the sample will then be deposited into the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) and Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instruments. For the first time, a sample from inside Martian sedimentary bedrock will be analyzed by the most advanced laboratory to ever be sent to another planet.
It will be interesting to see the results; Curiosity has already found evidence that this area inside Gale crater was once soaking wet with water and even had a stream running through it a very long time ago. The rover’s main objective is to see whether the environment here could have supported life, at least microbial. These first detailed studies of the ancient bedrock should be another big step toward answering that question.