Mars Curiosity rover’s next drill target a bumpier challenge

Mars drill target Cumberland
This map shows the location of Cumberland, the second rock-drilling target for NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity, near the site of the first drilling target, a rock called John Klein, in Yellowknife Bay.
(NASA /JPL / Caltech / University of Arizona)

After a four-week spring break, NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has set its sights on the next drill target: Cumberland, a rock lying about 9 feet away from where the rover first broke ground in Yellowknife Bay.

The new target will be a greater challenge than the last, with more bumpy rock containing more erosion-resistant, mineral-rich concretions that formed when water once soaked the stone. 

Mission scientists wanted to play it safe for the first time the rover wielded its drill, said Ashwin Vasavada, a deputy project scientist on the Mars Science Laboratory at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge. John Klein was a rock with few complications.

“It was our very first drill hole,” Vasavada said in an interview this week. “So we chose a nice flat slab of rock, even though there’s other places that have a lot more secondary alterations, like veins and concretions.”


For the second rock, Vasavada said, they’d want to try something with a little more variety. Veins and concretions in the rock should fill in scientists’ picture of the different watery “eras” on Mars, he added. 

The drilling at Cumberland will also allow the scientists to duplicate their groundbreaking results from the John Klein rock sample, which revealed a wealth of chemicals necessary for living things and evidence of a low-acidity, life-friendly environment.

Curiosity is roughly nine months into its mission to look for habitable environments on the Red Planet. Once it wraps up its examination of Yellowknife Bay, the lab-on-wheels will set off for Mt. Sharp, the 3-mile-high mountain in the middle of Gale Crater whose layers could hold a wealth of information about Mars’ geologic history. 

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