LOS ANGELES (TIP): Nasa’s Curiosity rover is preparing to drill the Martian surface and is driving towards a flat rock with pale veins that may hold clues to a wet history on the Red Planet. It’s the most highly anticipated milestone since the sixwheel, nuclear-powered rover landed near the Martian equator five months ago on its two-year prime mission, investigating whether the planet ever offered an environment favourable for microbial life.
If the rock meets rover engineers’ approval when Curiosity rolls up to it in coming days, it will become the first to be drilled for a sample during the mission, Nasa said. “Drilling into a rock to collect a sample will be this mission’s most challenging activity since the landing. It has never been done on Mars,” said Mars science laboratory project manager Richard Cook. “The drill hardware interacts energetically with Martian material we don’t control. We won’t be surprised if some steps in the process don’t go exactly as planned the first time through,” Cook said in a Nasa statement. Curiosity first will gather powdered samples from inside the rock and use those to scrub the drill. Then the rover will drill and ingest more samples from this rock, which it will analyse for information about its mineral and chemical composition.