Curiosity drills Mars rock sample for first time in two years

May 24 (UPI) — After a two-year stint on the disabled list, Curiosity’s drill is working again. This week, the Mars rover successfully collected a rock sample for the first time in almost two years.

Over the last year, engineers at NASA have developed a workaround drilling technique called Feed Extended Drilling, or FED, which uses the rover’s robotic arm to direct and push the drill into the ground as the drill bit spins. And last week, Curiosity engineers added percussion, or a hammering rhythm, to the FED technique.

The fix worked. Over the weekend, Curiosity drilled two inches into the Martian surface and collected a powder sample from the pulverized rock.

“The team used tremendous ingenuity to devise a new drilling technique and implement it on another planet,” Steve Lee, deputy project manager for the Curiosity mission, said in a news release. “Those are two vital inches of innovation from 60 million miles away. We’re thrilled that the result was so successful.”

Collecting and analyzing rock samples is the crux of Curiosity’s mission, so the latest success was a major relief for the team’s scientists.

“We’ve been developing this new drilling technique for over a year, but our job isn’t done once a sample has been collected on Mars,” said Tom Green, a systems engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “With each new test, we closely examine the data to look for improvements we can make and then head back to our test bed to iterate on the process.”

The next step is delivering the sample to Curiosity’s two internal laboratories. Mission engineers are working on a new process and hope to test it on Friday.

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