The scoop of rock was the result of drilling by Curiosity that put previous such efforts by rovers on the Red Planet to shame. In February, Curiosity's drill dug into a rock of a grayish hue, very unlike the planet's red surface. The drill bored a hole 0.63 of an inch wide and 2.5 inches deep.
The resulting sample was shaken and stirred in what NASA engineer Daniel Limonadi called the "martini mixer on the spacecraft."
As the Los Angeles Times' Amina Khan reported last month, Curiosity was to shake the sample through 0.006-of-an-inch holes before transferring it into a laboratory in the belly of the rover. There, the CheMin instrument and the Sample Analysis at Mars suite were to analyze the rock's chemical properties and mineral structure.
Curiosity hit a bump in the road late last month when it experienced a technical glitch. Some of the rover's computer memory became corrupted and normal operations stalled, NASA scientist Ashwin Vasavada told the Los Angeles Times. Then a solar storm lashed the planet with radiation; the Curiosity team decided to "keep the rover asleep" during that event.
A spare computer was activated and updated with "all the things the other computer knew," said Vasavada, deputy project scientist for Curiosity. NASA wasn't overly worried about the glitch; scientists had prepared for such crises.
"Much of Curiosity's avionics, and even some of its cameras, are duplicated in order to keep the mission going when problems occur," Vasavada said.
-- Amy Hubbard, Los Angeles Times