NASA has announced that the Mars rover Curiosity will drill into Martian rock for the first time to look for proof that water once existed on the Red Planet.
The rock chosen, named "John Klein" in tribute to former Mars Science Laboratory deputy project manager who died in 2011, was found with veins of hydrated calcium sulfate, or gypsum — a mineral that requires the presence of water to form.
Curiosity will drill, ingest and analyse samples of the rock to determine the chemical properties of this rock, and help towards answering these questions about the Martian planet.
"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."
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.
"This area had a different type of wet environment than the streambed where we landed, maybe a few different types of wet environments," said Mars Science Laboratory project scientist John Grotzinger, of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
A unique area on a martian planet? Drill baby, drill.
With a thumbs up from the engineers, this light-veined rock will be my 1st drill target on Mars [pics] go.nasa.gov/10x8mST— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) January 15, 2013