Everyone’s favorite resident of Mars, NASA’s Curiosity rover, is back in action after several weeks of diagnostic work. The rover has successfully drilled its eighteenth hole in the Mars surface, managing to extract a type of rock that a previous attempt failed to capture.
The rock drilled, called “Highfield,” is a type of grey bedrock on the Vera Rubin Ridge which is tough to drill into due to its hardness. The previous site, named “Inverness,” proved too much of a challenge for Curiosity’s drill. But the NASA team were able to pick a suitable drilling site this time by finding softer rock. They chose a new drilling site by looking at scratches left in the rock by the rover’s Dust Removal Tool and by noting the lack of fluting on the surface which is caused by wind erosion. The scratches and lack of erosion suggested that the entire rock eroded relatively quickly, meaning it was softer than previous drill sites.
The drilling resulted in the successful collection of a sample of the highest value target on Vera Rubin Ridge. But the rover won’t be resting yet, as over the next days it will perform more imaging and spectroscopy on the drill hole, and will deposit the sample in the CheMin instrument to analyze its chemistry and mineralogy.
Curiosity is up and about again after being immobilized back in September. An unknown issue prevented the rover from sending information back to Earth, although the machine was still otherwise functional. The NASA team decided to turn off all of Curiosity’s instruments while they worked through a diagnostic process. A few weeks ago in October, the Curiosity was switched to using its backup computer instead, and was able to take and send images to Earth once again.
The rover is equipped with two computers called A-side and B-side to ensure redundancy in the case of this kind of problem. Originally the rover was using the A-side when it landed on Mars in August 2012, but it had to switch to the B-side in February 2013 due to a memory problem. Curiosity has been using the B-side without issues since then, and fortunately this gave NASA enough time to patch up the A-side so it was ready to use when needed.
You can follow the Curiosity rover’s adventures on its adorable Twitter feed for a first person perspective on Mars exploration.