Since NASA Curiosity landed on Mars, it has made several significant discoveries on the red planet. Drilling a hole on Mars is one of the most fascinating scientific breakthroughs of the rover. On February 8, 2013, (Sol 182), NASA’s Curiosity rover bore into a flat veiny rock on the Martian surface and took a sample beneath the surface. Scientists marvel at this milestone as it was the first time a rover ever drilled a rock to obtain a sample on Mars.
Why NASA Drilled a Hole on Mars
Exploring Mars has been one of the primary concerns of space agencies especially, NASA. This is because the American space agency is planning to send humans to the red planet and advance its scientific exploration on Mars. NASA has sent several rovers to Mars in the past. However, its Curiosity rover is one of the best space vehicles on Mars that has unlocked several mysteries on the red planet.
During Curiosity’s 182nd Martian day of operations on the red planet, the rover drilled the first hole on Mars. NASA scientists controlling the rover engaged it in numerous preparatory activities before proceeding to execute the drill. These preparatory activities include a test that creates a shallower hole two days before the actual drill. However, the deeper hole bored by the rover is the first official drill as Curiosity was able to obtain a sample from the drill.
The rover drilled the first hole to be about 0.63 inches (1.6 centimeters) wide and 2.5 inches (6.4 centimeters) deep in a patch of fine-grained sedimentary bedrock. Scientists believed that the drilled rock holds powerful evidence of ancient wet environments on Mars. To verify the content of the sample, the rover will use its laboratory instruments to study the rock powder obtained by the drill.
“The most advanced planetary robot ever designed is now a fully operating analytical laboratory on Mars,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate. “This is the biggest milestone accomplishment for the Curiosity team since the sky-crane landing last August, another proud day for America.”
What Curiosity Rover Discovered from Drilling a Hole On Mars
After the drill, the Curiosity rover sent the outcome of its observations to the ground controllers on Earth. The controllers issued a command to the rover’s arm instructing it to conduct several steps to process the sample and send the outcome of its observation back home. Scientists studied the samples obtained by the Curiosity Rover for several days to understand what it’s content.
From several samples drilled from Mount Sharp and the neighboring plains, the Curiosity rover enable scientists to discover organic molecules on Mars. These organic molecules exist as building blocks of life, and discovered by the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument of the Curiosity rover.
However, this discovery did not suggest that we have found evidence of past or present life on Mars. However, it enabled scientists to discover the raw ingredients of life in the hostile environment of the red planet. The discovery also means that ancient organic materials can stay preserved for our civilization to discover when we later advance our search for life on the red planet.
How Curiosity Rover Collected the Samples
Before the Curiosity rover commenced with its drilling procedures to bore a hole on Mars, the ground controllers have to issue the command.
“We commanded the first full-depth drilling, and we believe we have collected sufficient material from the rock to meet our objectives of hardware cleaning and sample drop-off,” said Avi Okon, drill cognizant engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
During the drills, rock powders were produced, and they move up flutes on the bit. NASA engineers designed the bit assembly with chambers that can hold the powder until it transfers it into the sample-handling mechanisms of Curiosity’s Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis (CHIMRA) device. After the drill, the rock samples will undergo studying process as soon as the rover passed through thorough cleansing.
“We’ll take the powder we acquired and swish it around to scrub the internal surfaces of the drill bit assembly,” said JPL’s Scott McCloskey, drill systems engineer. “Then we’ll use the arm to transfer the powder out of the drill into the scoop, which will be our first chance to see the acquired sample.”
“Building a tool to interact forcefully with unpredictable rocks on Mars required an ambitious development and testing program,” said JPL’s Louise Jandura, chief engineer for Curiosity’s sample system. 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.”
NASA designed the sample-handling device to vibrate and sieve the powder once or twice to remove any particles more massive than six-thousandths of an inch (150 microns) across. Smaller particles obtained from the process will pass through ports on the Curiosity deck into the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument and the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument.
Curiosity rover has made several discoveries on Mars. The drill made by the rover in 2013 was named “John Klein” in memory of a Mars Science Laboratory deputy project manager who died in 2011. The fascinating outcome of this discovery surely revolutionized the world of science. What do you think about drilling a hole on Mars?