NASA's Mars rover Curiosity, dispatched to learn if the planet ever had
ingredients for life, drilled its first bit of powder from inside a
potentially water-formed ancient rock, scientists said on Wednesday.
robotic geology station, which landed inside a giant impact basin on
August 6 for a two-year mission, transferred about a tablespoon of rock
powder from its drill into a scoop, pictures relayed by the rover
"We're all very happy to get this confirmation
and relieved that the drilling was a complete success," Curiosity
engineer Scott McCloskey of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in
Pasadena, California, told reporters on a conference call.
February 8, the rover used its powerful drill, the first instrument of
its type to be sent to Mars, to bore inside a flat, veined piece of
bedrock, which appears to contain minerals formed by flowing water.
sample, retrieved from at least 2 inches (5 cm) beneath the surface of
the rock, will be sieved and portions of it processed inside two onboard
The gray powder is strikingly different than
the ubiquitous red dust that covers the planet's surface, a result of
oxidation from solar ultraviolet radiation.
rock-drilling capability on a rover is a significant advancement," said
Louise Jandura, chief engineer for Curiosity's sample system.
allows us to go beyond the surface layer of the rock, unlocking a kind
of time capsule of evidence about the state of Mars going back 3 or 4
billion years," Jandura told reporters.
The drill is the last of
Curiosity's 10 science instruments to be tested since the rover landed
inside Gale Crater, located near the planet's equator.
was selected because of a three-mile (5-km) high mound of what appears
to be layered sediments rising from the crater's floor.
than driving directly over to the mountain, scientists decided to
explore an area in the opposite direction that showed intriguing signs
of past water.
Water is believed to be a key ingredient for life.
rocks in this area have a really rich geologic history and they have
the potential to give us information about multiple interactions of
water and rock," said Curiosity scientist Joel Hurowitz, also with the
Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The fine-grained rocks are filled with
veins and spherical deposits, including what appears to be calcium
sulfate, a mineral which forms on Earth when water flows through
fractures in rock. Mars is the planet in our solar system most like
"When you find exactly these sorts of conditions on Earth
... and everything still goes right, it's still an accident of fate to
preserve organics," Curiosity's lead scientist John Grotzinger of the
California Institute of Technology in Pasadena told Reuters.
we'll have to separate at some point the pursuit of what may have been a
habitable environment from what may or may not be an environment that
preserves organics," he said.
"Obviously we're interested in the
organics but right now we're sort of on the pathway to hopefully
characterizing this place as a habitable environment," Grotzinger said.
© Thomson Reuters 2013