The robot 'Curiosity' of NASA returns to drill in Mars

The Curiosity rover has taken the first sample drilled on Mars in more than a year, after engineers designed from Earth a new method of work to overcome technical problems.

Curiosity conducted a percussion drilling test this past weekend, penetrating approximately half a centimeter (two inches) into a target called "Duluth."

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has been testing this drilling technique since a mechanical problem disconnected the Curiosity drill in December 2016. This technique, called Feed Extended Drilling, keeps the drill extended beyond two poles stabilizers that were originally used to stabilize the drill against Martian rocks. It allows Curiosity to drill using the strength of its robotic arm, a bit more like the way a human would pierce a wall in their home.

"The team used a tremendous amount of inventiveness to devise a new drilling technique and implement it on another planet," said Curiosity's deputy project director, Steve Lee, of JPL. "Those are two vital inches of innovation from 90 million kilometers away, and we are delighted that the result has been so successful."

Drilling is a vitally important part of Curiosity's capabilities to study Mars. Within the rover there are two laboratories that can perform chemical and mineralogical analysis of rock and soil samples. The samples are obtained from Gale crater, which the rover has been exploring since 2012.

Curiosity's scientific team has been eager for the drill to work before the rover leaves its current location near Vera Rubin Ridge. Fortunately, I was close enough to drill targets like Duluth to go back down the ridge.

The next step remains: to deliver the rock sample from the drill to the two laboratories inside the rover.

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