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NASA rover Curiosity scoops up first Martian rock sample

NASA rover Curiosity scoops up first Martian rock sample
This image from NASA’s Curiosity rover shows the first sample of powdered rock extracted by the rover’s drill.

NASA’s Curiosity rover has collected the first sample from inside a rock on another planet.

The rover used its drill to bore into a rock on Mars earlier this month. But images released Wednesday showed the proof — the rover’s scoop holding a grayish powder.

Scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge said on Wednesday they were thrilled that the drill, one of the integral instruments on the rover, worked properly.

“Many of us have been working toward this day for years. Getting final confirmation of successful drilling is incredibly gratifying,” said Scott McCloskey, a JPL drill systems engineer on the mission. “For the sampling team, this is the equivalent of the landing team going crazy after the successful touchdown.”


Caltech’s John Grotzinger, who is leading Curiosity’s science operation, said the collection of the Martian rock sample marked a “turning point” for the mission.

Joel Hurowitz, a sampling system scientist at JPL, said the location for the first drilling, an area on Mars with fine grain rocks that could have once been deposited in water, was also ideal.

“It’s something we couldn’t be more happy about,” he said.

Scientists practiced drilling into 20 different types rocks on Earth before they directed Curiosity toward its first target, a rock named “John Klein,” after a former JPL project manager who died in 2011.


The rock sample has yet to be analyzed by the rover’s on-board chemistry lab. Scientists said they want to find out why a sample from the Red Planet appears gray in color.

Hurowitz said it could be an indication that the rock didn’t go through a process that turned it to rust. But everyone will have to wait awhile to find out.

“Right now, the sample is sitting in the scoop. We haven’t passed the scoop off to other instruments,” he said. “Stay tuned.”


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-- Tiffany Kelly, Times Community News


Follow Tiffany Kelly on Google+ and on Twitter @LATiffanyKelly.