InSight lander on path to Mars, says NASA

Инженеры NASA восстановили работоспособность марсохода Curiosity

NASA's Mars Curiosity rover has been on a drilling hiatus for more than a year but it is now able to drill samples in rocks at the Red Planet's Gale Crater again. This image, captured by Curiosity's Mast Camera, is white balanced and contrast enhanced.

A mechanical issue took the drill on Curiosity offline in December 2016.

NASA is very proud of that two inch hole, but since it was drilled thanks to months of strategizing from millions of miles away on another planet, that pride seems justified here. "We're thrilled that the result was so successful".

The drill on NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover is back in action and could soon be restored to its former glory, the space agency announced yesterday. NASA spent a long time looking into solutions while the rover whirred around Mount Sharp without a working drill, but earlier this week, they announced that they finally had a fix that was ready to be field tested.

"We've purposely driven backwards because the team believes there's high value in drilling a distinct kind of rock that makes up a 200-foot-thick [about 60 meters] layer below the ridge", Ashwin Vasavada, project scientist, tells UPI before the tests began for the new drilling technique. The hole is about 0.6 inches (1.6 cm) wide. The samples are acquired from Gale Crater, which the rover has been exploring since 2012.

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Curiosity has been making its way up Mount Sharp, a towering mound of layered rock in the center of Gale Crater, and now is perched atop a feature known as Vera Rubin Ridge. However, engineers at JPL will continue tweaking the extended drilling technique and develop new ways to improve its performance.

Demonstrating that Curiosity's percussive drilling technique works is a milestone in itself.

"We've been developing this new drilling technique for over a year, but our job isn't done once a sample has been collected on Mars", said JPL's Tom Green, a systems engineer who helped develop and test Curiosity's new drilling method. With the mechanism that controls that drill movement broken, the team chose to see if they could use the drill without it, extending the drill bit and letting it drill "naked", without the help of the stabilizer bars.

The rover has always relied on a drill to pulverize rocks into powder, which it can then analyze using x-rays to identify what minerals are present. "With each new test we are carefully studying the data to find improvements that we can make, and then return to our test bench to repeat the process", said the NASA engineer Thomas Greene.

There's also the next step to work on: delivering the rock sample from the drill bit to the two laboratories inside the rover. The scientists would need refining the process in which the Curiosity rover produces those dusty Martian rock samples into its 2 internal chemical labs for examination.

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