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Mars Rover/Mission Thread: Following Our Curiosity

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First Use of Mars Rover Curiosity's Dust Removal Tool

This image from the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity shows the patch of rock cleaned by the first use of the rover's Dust Removal Tool (DRT).

The tool is a motorized, wire-bristle brush on the turret at the end of the rover's arm. Its first use was on the 150th Martian day, or sol, of the mission (Jan. 6, 2013). MAHLI took this image from a distance of about 10 inches (25 centimeters) after the brushing was completed on this rock target called "Ekwir_1." The patch of the rock from which dust has been brushed away is about 1.85 inches by 2.44 inches (47 millimeters by 62 millimeters). The scale bar at bottom right is 1 centimeter (0.39 inch).

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NASA Mars Rover Preparing to Drill Into First Martian Rock

01.15.13

719259main_pia16567-673.jpg This view shows the patch of veined, flat-lying rock selected as the first drilling site for NASA's Mars rover Curiosity. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

› Full image and caption › Latest images › Curiosity gallery › Curiosity videos

719013main_pia16705-43_226-170.jpg This image of an outcrop at the "Sheepbed" locality, taken by NASA's Curiosity Mars rover with its right Mast Camera (Mastcam), shows show well-defined veins filled with whitish minerals, interpreted as calcium sulfate. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

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719037main_pia16707-43_226-170.jpg This image from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity shows inclined layering known as cross-bedding in an outcrop called "Shaler" on a scale of a few tenths of meters, or decimeters (1 decimeter is nearly 4 inches). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

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PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA's Mars rover Curiosity is driving toward a flat rock with pale veins that may hold clues to a wet history on the Red Planet. If the rock meets rover engineers' approval when Curiosity rolls up to it in coming days, it will become the first to be drilled for a sample during the Mars Science Laboratory mission.

The size of a car, Curiosity is inside Mars' Gale Crater investigating whether the planet ever offered an environment favorable for microbial life. Curiosity landed in the crater five months ago to begin its two-year prime mission.

"Drilling into a rock to collect a sample will be this mission's most challenging activity since the landing. It has never been done on Mars," said Mars Science Laboratory project manager Richard Cook of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "The drill hardware interacts energetically with Martian material we don't control. We won't be surprised if some steps in the process don't go exactly as planned the first time through."

Curiosity first will gather powdered samples from inside the rock and use those to scrub the drill. Then the rover will drill and ingest more samples from this rock, which it will analyze for information about its mineral and chemical composition.

The chosen rock is in an area where Curiosity's Mast Camera (Mastcam) and other cameras have revealed diverse unexpected features, including veins, nodules, cross-bedded layering, a lustrous pebble embedded in sandstone, and possibly some holes in the ground.

The rock chosen for drilling is called "John Klein" in tribute to former Mars Science Laboratory deputy project manager John W. Klein, who died in 2011.

"John's leadership skill played a crucial role in making Curiosity a reality," said Cook.

The target is on flat-lying bedrock within a shallow depression called "Yellowknife Bay." The terrain in this area differs from that of the landing site, a dry streambed about a third of a mile (about 500 meters) to the west. Curiosity's science team decided to look there for a first drilling target because orbital observations showed fractured ground that cools more slowly each night than nearby terrain types do.

"The orbital signal drew us here, but what we found when we arrived has been a great surprise," said Mars Science Laboratory project scientist John Grotzinger, of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "This area had a different type of wet environment than the streambed where we landed, maybe a few different types of wet environments."

One line of evidence comes from inspection of light-toned veins with Curiosity's laser-pulsing Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument, which found elevated levels of calcium, sulfur and hydrogen.

"These veins are likely composed of hydrated calcium sulfate, such as bassinite or gypsum," said ChemCam team member Nicolas Mangold of the Laboratoire de Planétologie et Géodynamique de Nantes in France. "On Earth, forming veins like these requires water circulating in fractures."

Researchers have used the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) to examine sedimentary rocks in the area. Some are sandstone, with grains up to about peppercorn size. One grain has an interesting gleam and bud-like shape that have brought it Internet buzz as a "Martian flower." Other rocks nearby are siltstone, with grains finer than powdered sugar. These differ significantly from pebbly conglomerate rocks in the landing area.

"All of these are sedimentary rocks, telling us Mars had environments actively depositing material here," said MAHLI deputy principal investigator Aileen Yingst of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz. "The different grain sizes tell us about different transport conditions."

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It's not our curiousity, rather our opportunity

NASA's Veteran Mars Rover Ready to Start 10th Year

01.22.13

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'Matijevic Hill' Panorama for Rover's Ninth Anniversary

As NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity neared the ninth anniversary of its landing on Mars, the rover was working in the 'Matijevic Hill' area seen in this view from Opportunity's panoramic camera (Pancam). Opportunity landed Jan. 24, 2004, PST (Jan. 25 UTC). The landing site was about 12 miles (19 kilometers), straight-line distance, or about 22 miles (35.5 kilometers) driving-route distance, from this location on the western rim of Endeavour Crater.

Matijevic Hill is an area within the "Cape York" segment of Endeavour's rim where clay minerals have been detected from orbit. This view is centered northwestward, toward the crest of Cape York. It extends more than 210 degrees from left to right. The field of view encompasses most of the terrain traversed by Opportunity during a "walkabout" in October and November 2012 to scout which features to spend time examining more intensely. Two of the features investigated at Matijevic Hill are "Copper Cliff," the dark outcrop in the left center of the image, and "Whitewater Lake," the bright outcrop on the far right.

Opportunity's Pancam took the component images for this mosaic during the period from the mission's 3,137th Martian day, or sol, (Nov. 19, 2012) through Sol 3150 (Dec. 3, 2012).

The image combines exposures taken through Pancam filters centered on wavelengths of 753 nanometers (near-infrared), 535 nanometers (green) and 432 nanometers (violet). The view is presented in approximate true color. This "natural color" is the rover team's best estimate of what the scene would look like if humans were there and able to see it with their own eyes.

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Mars Rover Curiosity Uses Arm Camera at Night

01.24.13

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This image of a Martian rock illuminated by white-light LEDs (light emitting diodes) is part of the first set of nighttime images taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera at the end of the robotic arm of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

› Full image and caption › Latest images › Curiosity gallery › Curiosity videos

721600main_pia16712-43_226-170.jpg This image of a Martian rock illuminated by ultraviolet LEDs (light emitting diodes) is part of the first set of nighttime images taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera at the end of the robotic arm of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

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721622main_pia16714-43_226-170.jpg This image of a calibration target illuminated by ultraviolet LEDs (light emitting diodes) is part of the first set of nighttime images taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera at the end of the robotic arm of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

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› White-light LEDs

PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has for the first time used the camera on its arm to take photos at night, illuminated by white lights and ultraviolet lights on the instrument.

Scientists used the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) instrument for a close-up nighttime look at a rock target called "Sayunei," in an area where Curiosity's front-left wheel had scuffed the rock to provide fresh, dust-free materials to examine. The site is near where the rover team plans to begin using Curiosity to drill into a rock in coming weeks. The images of the rock Sayunei and of MAHLI's calibration target were taken on Jan. 22 (PST) and received on Earth Jan. 23.

The MAHLI, an adjustable-focus color camera, includes its own LED (light-emitting diode) illumination sources. Images of Sayunei taken with white-LED illumination and with illumination by ultraviolet LEDs are available online at: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/multimedia/pia16711.html and http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/multimedia/pia16712.html .

"The purpose of acquiring observations under ultraviolet illumination was to look for fluorescent minerals," said MAHLI Principal Investigator Ken Edgett of Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego. "These data just arrived this morning. The science team is still assessing the observations. If something looked green, yellow, orange or red under the ultraviolet illumination, that'd be a more clear-cut indicator of fluorescence."

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory project is using Curiosity to investigate whether the study area within Gale Crater has offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory mission for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington

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Curiosity Maneuver Prepares for Drilling

01.28.13

722685main_pia16716-673.jpg The percussion drill in the turret of tools at the end of the robotic arm of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has been positioned in contact with the rock surface in this image from the rover's front Hazard-Avoidance Camera (Hazcam). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech › Full image and caption

Mission status report

PASADENA, Calif. - NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has placed its drill onto a series of four locations on a Martian rock and pressed down on it with the rover's arm, in preparation for using the drill in coming days.

The rover carried out this "pre-load" testing on Mars yesterday (Jan. 27). The tests enable engineers to check whether the amount of force applied to the hardware matches predictions for what would result from the commanded motions.

The next step is an overnight pre-load test, to gain assurance that the large temperature change from day to night at the rover's location does not add excessively to stress on the arm while it is pressing on the drill. At Curiosity's work site in Gale Crater, air temperature plunges from about 32 degrees Fahrenheit (zero degrees Celsius) in the afternoon to minus 85 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 65 degrees Celsius) overnight. Over this temperature swing, this large rover's arm, chassis and mobility system grow and shrink by about a tenth of an inch (about 2.4 millimeters), a little more than the thickness of a U.S. quarter-dollar coin.

The rover team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., sent the rover commands yesterday to begin the overnight pre-load test today (Monday).

"We don't plan on leaving the drill in a rock overnight once we start drilling, but in case that happens, it is important to know what to expect in terms of stress on the hardware," said JPL's Daniel Limonadi, the lead systems engineer for Curiosity's surface sampling and science system. "This test is done at lower pre-load values than we plan to use during drilling, to let us learn about the temperature effects without putting the hardware at risk."

Remaining preparatory steps will take at least the rest of this week. Some of these steps are hardware checks. Others will evaluate characteristics of the rock material at the selected drilling site on a patch of flat, veined rock called "John Klein."

Limonadi said, "We are proceeding with caution in the approach to Curiosity's first drilling. This is challenging. It will be the first time any robot has drilled into a rock to collect a sample on Mars."

An activity called the "drill-on-rock checkout" will use the hammering action of Curiosity's drill briefly, without rotation of the drill bit, for assurance that the back-and-forth percussion mechanism and associated control system are properly tuned for hitting a rock.

A subsequent activity called "mini-drill" is designed to produce a small ring of tailings -- powder resulting from drilling -- on the surface of the rock while penetrating less than eight-tenths of an inch (2 centimeters). This activity will not go deep enough to push rock powder into the drill's sample-gathering chamber. Limonadi said, "The purpose is to see whether the tailings are behaving the way we expect. Do they look like dry powder? That's what we want to confirm."

The rover team's activities this week are affected by the difference between Mars time and Earth time. To compensate for this, the team develops commands based on rover activities from two sols earlier. So, for example, the mini-drill activity cannot occur sooner than two sols after the drill-on-rock checkout.

Each Martian sol lasts about 40 minutes longer than a 24-hour Earth day. By mid-February, the afternoon at Gale Crater, when Curiosity transmits information about results from the sol, will again be falling early enough in the California day for the rover team to plan each sol based on the previous sol's results.

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project is using Curiosity to assess whether areas inside Gale Crater ever offered a habitable environment for microbes. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

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Weekend Test on Mars Was Preparation to Drill a Rock

02.04.13

724417main_pia16717-673.jpg The bit in the rotary-percussion drill of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity left its mark in a target patch of rock called "John Klein" during a test on the rover's 176th Martian day, or sol (Feb. 2, 2013), in preparation for the first drilling of a rock by the rover. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

PASADENA, Calif. - The bit of the rock-sampling drill on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity left its mark on a Martian rock this weekend during brief testing of the tool's percussive action.

The successful activity, called a "drill-on-rock checkout" by the rover team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, is part of a series of tests to prepare for the first drilling in history to collect a sample of rock material on Mars.

An image of the bit mark on the rock target called "John Klein" is available online at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/multimedia/pia16717.html .

Another preparatory test, called "mini drill," will precede the full drilling. The mini drill test will use both the rotary and percussive actions of the drill to generate a ring of rock powder around a hole. This will allow for evaluation of the material to see if it behaves as a dry powder suitable for processing by the rover's sample handling mechanisms.

During a two-year prime mission, researchers are using Curiosity's 10 science instruments to assess whether the study area in Gale Crater on Mars ever has offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life

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How long does it take radio signals to travel to Curiosity and back to Earth?

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How long does it take radio signals to travel to Curiosity and back to Earth?

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Preparatory Drill Test Performed on Mars

02.07.13

725364main_pia16760-673.jpg In an activity called the "mini drill test," NASA's Mars rover Curiosity used its drill to generate this ring of powdered rock for inspection in advance of the rover's first full drilling. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

725384main_pia16762-226.gif A blink pair of images taken before and after Curiosity performed a "mini drill" test on a Martian rock shows changes resulting from that activity. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

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725352main_pia16761-43_226-170.jpg After an activity called the "mini drill test" by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity, the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera recorded this close-up view of the results during the 180th Martian day, or sol, of the rover's work on Mars (Feb. 6, 2013). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

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PASADENA, Calif. - The drill on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity used both percussion and rotation to bore about 0.8 inch (2 centimeters) into a rock on Mars and generate cuttings for evaluation in advance of the rover's first sample-collection drilling.

Completion of this "mini drill" test in preparation for full drilling was confirmed in data from Mars received late Wednesday at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. If the drill cuttings on the ground around the fresh hole pass visual evaluation as suitable for processing by the rover's sample handling mechanisms, the rover team plans to proceed with commanding the first full drilling in coming days.

An image of the hole and surrounding cuttings produced by the mini drill test is online at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/multimedia/pia16760.html .

The test was performed on a patch of flat, vein-bearing rock called "John Klein." The locations of earlier percussion-only testing and planned sample-collection drilling are also on John Klein. Pre-drilling observations of this rock yielded indications of one or more episodes of wet environmental conditions. The team plans to use Curiosity's laboratory instruments to analyze sample powder from inside the rock to learn more about the site's environmental history.

The planned full drilling will be the first rock drilling on Mars to collect a sample of material for analysis.

During a two-year prime mission, researchers are using Curiosity's 10 science instruments to assess whether the study area in Gale Crater on Mars ever has offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life

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Radio waves are a form of light. So they travel at the speed of light, 299,792,458 m/s. The average distance between earth and mars is 225 million km

Distance ÷ Speed = Time

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OK, thanks. I just asked because I thought I remembered there being quite a lag for the signal returning from the moon back in 69. Seems like they told us it took so long for the signal to return from the moon. Then there are lags in satelite transmissions around the globe. I'm watching the video simulation for Curiosity and notice that it stops on and zooms in on a distant target. So the remote control has to be nearly instantaeous. Is this reallistic?

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NASA Curiosity Rover Collects First Martian Bedrock Sample

02.09.13

725704main_pia16726-673.jpg At the center of this image from NASA's Curiosity rover is the hole in a rock called "John Klein" where the rover conducted its first sample drilling on Mars. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

› Full image and caption › See drilling animation

725716main_pia16728-226.gif An animated set of three images from NASA's Curiosity rover shows the rover's drill in action on Feb. 8, 2013, or Sol 182, Curiosity's 182nd Martian day of operations. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

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725673main_pia16686-43_226-170.jpg NASA's Mars rover Curiosity used its Mast Camera (Mastcam) to take the images combined into this mosaic of the drill area, called "John Klein." Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

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PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA's Curiosity rover has, for the first time, used a drill carried at the end of its robotic arm to bore into a flat, veiny rock on Mars and collect a sample from its interior. This is the first time any robot has drilled into a rock to collect a sample on Mars.

The fresh hole, about 0.63 inch (1.6 centimeters) wide and 2.5 inches (6.4 centimeters) deep in a patch of fine-grained sedimentary bedrock, can be seen in images and other data Curiosity beamed to Earth Saturday. The rock is believed to hold evidence about long-gone wet environments. In pursuit of that evidence, the rover will use its laboratory instruments to analyze rock powder collected by the drill.

"The most advanced planetary robot ever designed is now a fully operating analytical laboratory on Mars," said John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator for the agency's Science Mission Directorate. "This is the biggest milestone accomplishment for the Curiosity team since the sky-crane landing last August, another proud day for America."

For the next several days, ground controllers will command the rover's arm to carry out a series of steps to process the sample, ultimately delivering portions to the instruments inside.

"We commanded the first full-depth drilling, and we believe we have collected sufficient material from the rock to meet our objectives of hardware cleaning and sample drop-off," said Avi Okon, drill cognizant engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Rock powder generated during drilling travels up flutes on the bit. The bit assembly has chambers to hold the powder until it can be transferred to the sample-handling mechanisms of the rover's Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis (CHIMRA) device.

Before the rock powder is analyzed, some will be used to scour traces of material that may have been deposited onto the hardware while the rover was still on Earth, despite thorough cleaning before launch.

"We'll take the powder we acquired and swish it around to scrub the internal surfaces of the drill bit assembly," said JPL's Scott McCloskey, drill systems engineer. "Then we'll use the arm to transfer the powder out of the drill into the scoop, which will be our first chance to see the acquired sample."

"Building a tool to interact forcefully with unpredictable rocks on Mars required an ambitious development and testing program," said JPL's Louise Jandura, chief engineer for Curiosity's sample system. "To get to the point of making this hole in a rock on Mars, we made eight drills and bored more than 1,200 holes in 20 types of rock on Earth."

Inside the sample-handling device, the powder will be vibrated once or twice over a sieve that screens out any particles larger than six-thousandths of an inch (150 microns) across. Small portions of the sieved sample will fall through ports on the rover deck into the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument and the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument. These instruments then will begin the much-anticipated detailed analysis.

The rock Curiosity drilled is called "John Klein" in memory of a Mars Science Laboratory deputy project manager who died in 2011. Drilling for a sample is the last new activity for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project, which is using the car-size Curiosity rover to investigate whether an area within Mars' Gale Crater has ever offered an environment favorable for life.

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Mars Rock Takes Unusual Form

02.11.13

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A shiny-looking Martian rock is visible in this image taken by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity's Mast Camera (Mastcam) during the mission's 173rd Martian day, or sol (Jan. 30, 2013). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems › Larger view

On Mars, as on Earth, sometimes things can take on an unusual appearance. A case in point is a shiny-looking rock seen in a recent image from NASA's Curiosity Mars rover.

Some casual observers might see a resemblance to a car door handle, hood ornament or some other type of metallic object. To Ronald Sletten of the University of Washington, Seattle, a collaborator on Curiosity's science team, the object is an interesting study in how wind and the natural elements cause erosion and other effects on various types of rocks.

Find out what likely caused the shiny appearance of the Martian rock, and see some examples of similar phenomena found on Earth.A PDF of the images and explanatory text is available at: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/images/msl/20130211/ventifacts.pdf .

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Curiosity Rover's Self Portrait...

This rectangular version of a self-portrait of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity combines dozens of exposures taken by the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI)...

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NASA Rover Confirms First Drilled Mars Rock Sample

02.20.13

728854main_McCloskey-1pia16729-673.jpg This image from NASA's Curiosity rover shows the first sample of powdered rock extracted by the rover's drill. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS › Full image and caption › Latest images › Gallery › Videos

728638main_pia16687-43_226-170.jpg This image from the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity shows details of rock texture and color in an area where the rover's Dust Removal Tool (DRT) brushed away dust that was on the rock. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Honeybee Robotics/LANL/CNES

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727078main_pia16085b-43_226-170.jpg This full-resolution image from NASA's Curiosity shows the turret of tools at the end of the rover's extended robotic arm on Aug. 20, 2012. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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727172main_pia16688-43_226-170.jpg This image shows the location of the 150-micrometer sieve screen on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity, a device used to remove larger particles from samples before delivery to science instruments. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

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PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has relayed new images that confirm it has successfully obtained the first sample ever collected from the interior of a rock on another planet. No rover has ever drilled into a rock beyond Earth and collected a sample from its interior.

Transfer of the powdered-rock sample into an open scoop was visible for the first time in images received Wednesday at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

"Seeing the powder from the drill in the scoop allows us to verify for the first time the drill collected a sample as it bore into the rock," said JPL's Scott McCloskey, drill systems engineer for Curiosity. "Many of us have been working toward this day for years. Getting final confirmation of successful drilling is incredibly gratifying. For the sampling team, this is the equivalent of the landing team going crazy after the successful touchdown."

The drill on Curiosity's robotic arm took in the powder as it bored a 2.5-inch (6.4-centimeter) hole into a target on flat Martian bedrock on Feb. 8. The rover team plans to have Curiosity sieve the sample and deliver portions of it to analytical instruments inside the rover.

The scoop now holding the precious sample is part of Curiosity's Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis (CHIMRA) device. During the next steps of processing, the powder will be enclosed inside CHIMRA and shaken once or twice over a sieve that screens out particles larger than 0.006 inch (150 microns) across.

Small portions of the sieved sample later will be delivered through inlet ports on top of the rover deck into the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument and Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument.

In response to information gained during testing at JPL, the processing and delivery plan has been adjusted to reduce use of mechanical vibration. The 150-micron screen in one of the two test versions of CHIMRA became partially detached after extensive use, although it remained usable. The team has added precautions for use of Curiosity's sampling system while continuing to study the cause and ramifications of the separation.

The sample comes from a fine-grained, veiny sedimentary rock called "John Klein," named in memory of a Mars Science Laboratory deputy project manager who died in 2011. The rock was selected for the first sample drilling because it may hold evidence of wet environmental conditions long ago. The rover's laboratory analysis of the powder may provide information about those conditions.

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project is using the Curiosity rover with its 10 science instruments to investigate whether an area within Mars' Gale Crater ever has offered an environment favorable for microbial life. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

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NASA Rover Finds Conditions Once Suited for Ancient Life on Mars

03.12.13

733496main_Grotzinger-2pia16833-673.jpg This set of images compares rocks seen by NASA's Opportunity rover and Curiosity rover at two different parts of Mars. On the left is " Wopmay" rock, in Endurance Crater, Meridiani Planum, as studied by the Opportunity rover. On the right are the rocks of the "Sheepbed" unit in Yellowknife Bay, in Gale Crater, as seen by Curiosity. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/MSSS

› Full image and caption › Latest images › Curiosity gallery › Curiosity videos

733500main_Grotzinger-1pia16832-43_226-170.jpg This false-color map shows the area within Gale Crater on Mars, where NASA's Curiosity rover landed on Aug. 5, 2012 PDT (Aug. 6, 2012 EDT) and the location where Curiosity collected its first drilled sample at the "John Klein" rock. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

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733476main_Blake-2pia16830-43_226-170.jpg This side-by-side comparison shows the X-ray diffraction patterns of two different samples collected from the Martian surface by NASA's Curiosity rover. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ames

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PASADENA, Calif. -- An analysis of a rock sample collected by NASA's Curiosity rover shows ancient Mars could have supported living microbes.

Scientists identified sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon -- some of the key chemical ingredients for life -- in the powder Curiosity drilled out of a sedimentary rock near an ancient stream bed in Gale Crater on the Red Planet last month.

"A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment," said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "From what we know now, the answer is yes."

Clues to this habitable environment come from data returned by the rover's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) and Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instruments. The data indicate the Yellowknife Bay area the rover is exploring was the end of an ancient river system or an intermittently wet lake bed that could have provided chemical energy and other favorable conditions for microbes. The rock is made up of a fine-grained mudstone containing clay minerals, sulfate minerals and other chemicals. This ancient wet environment, unlike some others on Mars, was not harshly oxidizing, acidic or extremely salty.

The patch of bedrock where Curiosity drilled for its first sample lies in an ancient network of stream channels descending from the rim of Gale Crater. The bedrock also is fine-grained mudstone and shows evidence of multiple periods of wet conditions, including nodules and veins.

Curiosity's drill collected the sample at a site just a few hundred yards away from where the rover earlier found an ancient streambed in September 2012.

"Clay minerals make up at least 20 percent of the composition of this sample," said David Blake, principal investigator for the CheMin instrument at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

These clay minerals are a product of the reaction of relatively fresh water with igneous minerals, such as olivine, also present in the sediment. The reaction could have taken place within the sedimentary deposit, during transport of the sediment, or in the source region of the sediment. The presence of calcium sulfate along with the clay suggests the soil is neutral or mildly alkaline.

Scientists were surprised to find a mixture of oxidized, less-oxidized, and even non-oxidized chemicals, providing an energy gradient of the sort many microbes on Earth exploit to live. This partial oxidation was first hinted at when the drill cuttings were revealed to be gray rather than red.

"The range of chemical ingredients we have identified in the sample is impressive, and it suggests pairings such as sulfates and sulfides that indicate a possible chemical energy source for micro-organisms," said Paul Mahaffy, principal investigator of the SAM suite of instruments at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

An additional drilled sample will be used to help confirm these results for several of the trace gases analyzed by the SAM instrument.

"We have characterized a very ancient, but strangely new 'gray Mars' where conditions once were favorable for life," said John Grotzinger, Mars Science Laboratory project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif. "Curiosity is on a mission of discovery and exploration, and as a team we feel there are many more exciting discoveries ahead of us in the months and years to come."

Scientists plan to work with Curiosity in the "Yellowknife Bay" area for many more weeks before beginning a long drive to Gale Crater's central mound, Mount Sharp. Investigating the stack of layers exposed on Mount Sharp, where clay minerals and sulfate minerals have been identified from orbit, may add information about the duration and diversity of habitable conditions.

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project has been using Curiosity to investigate whether an area within Mars' Gale Crater ever has offered an environment favorable for microbial life. Curiosity, carrying 10 science instruments, landed seven months ago to begin its two-year prime mission. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., manages the project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington

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734418main_pia16768-946.jpg

Mount Sharp Panorama in White-Balanced Colors

This mosaic of images from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity shows Mount Sharp in a white-balanced color adjustment that makes the sky look overly blue but shows the terrain as if under Earth-like lighting. White-balancing helps scientists recognize rock materials based on their experience looking at rocks on Earth. The Martian sky would look more of a butterscotch color to the human eye. White balancing yields an overly blue hue in images that have very little blue information, such as Martian landscapes, because the white balancing tends to overcompensate for the low inherent blue content.

Mount Sharp, also called Aeolis Mons, is a layered mound in the center of Mars' Gale Crater, rising more than 3 miles (5 kilometers) above the crater floor, where Curiosity has been working since the rover's landing in August 2012. Lower slopes of Mount Sharp are the major destination for the mission, though the rover will first spend many more weeks around a location called "Yellowknife Bay," where it has found evidence of a past environment favorable for microbial life.

This mosaic was assembled from dozens of images from the 100-millimeter-focal-length telephoto lens camera mounted on the right side of the Mastcam instrument. The component images were taken during the 45th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's mission on Mars (Sept. 20, 2012). The sky has been filled out by extrapolating color and brightness information from the portions of the sky that were captured in images of the terrain.

A raw-color version of the mosaic is available at http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA16769. Raw color shows the scene's colors as they would look in a typical smart-phone camera photo

Panorama From NASA Mars Rover Shows Mount Sharp

03.15.13

734366main_pia16768-673.jpg This mosaic of images from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity shows Mount Sharp in a white-balanced color adjustment that makes the sky look overly blue but shows the terrain as if under Earth-like lighting. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

› Full image and caption › Curiosity gallery › Curiosity videos

734369main_pia16769-226.jpg This mosaic of images from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity shows Mount Sharp in raw color as recorded by the camera. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

› Full image and caption

PASADENA, Calif. -- Rising above the present location of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity, higher than any mountain in the 48 contiguous states of the United States, Mount Sharp is featured in new imagery from the rover.

A pair of mosaics assembled from dozens of telephoto images shows Mount Sharp in dramatic detail. The component images were taken by the 100-millimeter-focal-length telephoto lens camera mounted on the right side of Curiosity's remote sensing mast, during the 45th Martian day of the rover's mission on Mars (Sept. 20, 2012).

This layered mound, also called Aeolis Mons, in the center of Gale Crater rises more than 3 miles (5 kilometers) above the crater floor location of Curiosity. Lower slopes of Mount Sharp remain a destination for the mission, though the rover will first spend many more weeks around a location called "Yellowknife Bay," where it has found evidence of a past environment favorable for microbial life.

A version of the mosaic that has been white-balanced to show the terrain as if under Earthlike lighting, which makes the sky look overly blue, is at http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA16768 . White-balanced versions help scientists recognize rock materials based on their terrestrial experience. The Martian sky would look like more of a butterscotch color to the human eye. A version of the mosaic with raw color, as a typical smart-phone camera would show the scene, is at http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA16769 . The white-balanced and raw images are both available with pan and zoom functionality on GigaPan at http://www.gigapan.com/gigapans/125627 and http://www.gigapan.com/gigapans/125628, respectively.

In both versions, the sky has been filled out by extrapolating color and brightness information from the portions of the sky that were captured in images of the terrain.

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