Mars rover Curiosity eyes first drilling site

The NASA rover Curiosity is set to use its drill for the first time on Mars in a region where water once possibly flowed, scientists said Tuesday.

Boring into a rock would be one of the 1-ton rover’s most difficult tasks since arriving on the Red Planet Aug. 5.

“This is something that we waited patiently for and accepted risk in driving to this destination,” said mission scientist John Grotzinger, of Caltech. “This has been very exciting.”

The target is a complex rock in a terrain on the Red Planet called Yellowknife Bay. The rover’s instruments have detected veins, sandstone and other features that scientists believe show evidence of a wet past.

“These rocks were saturated with water,” said Grotzinger, who called the area a “jackpot unit.”

The area is very different from the Gale Crater, where Curiosity landed, giving the rover an opportunity to hunt for organic materials, he said. “We’ll try to assess the habitability of this environment.”

The rover, managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, is expected to attempt its first drilling in the next couple of weeks. The rock that scientists have picked as the first target is named John Klein, after a former JPL deputy project manager who passed away in 2011.

The operation is slightly behind schedule, but the rover has been distracted surveying its new home.

“It does take us awhile to do stuff,” said Curiosity project manager Richard Cook. “That is a product of the fact that this mission is so complex. There’s a lot of interesting things to look at.”


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-- Tiffany Kelly, Times Community News

Follow Tiffany Kelly on Google+ or on Twitter: @LATiffanyKelly.


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