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Curiosity Preparing to Drill Into First Rock

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NASA Mars Rover Preparing to Drill Into First Martian Rock

719259mainpia16567673.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

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."

JPL, a division of Caltech, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

To see an image of the rock, visit: http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA16567 .

For more information about the mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/msl and http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl . Follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at: http://www.facebook.com/marscuriosity and http://www.twitter.com/marscuriosity

Guy Webster 818-354-6278

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

guy.webster@jpl.nasa.gov

Dwayne Brown 202-358-1726

NASA Headquarters, Washington

dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

2013-020

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Truly fascinating stuff.

just one question/ or 2:

""All of these are sedimentary rocks, telling us Mars had environments actively depositing material here," are they looking for minerals or something which could be used on Earth as we are "actively" using up our resources, and how much is that going to cost to transport it back on a regular basis if it is what they have in mind?

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"All of these are sedimentary rocks, telling us Mars had environments actively depositing material here," are they looking for minerals or something which could be used on Earth as we are "actively" using up our resources, and how much is that going to cost to transport it back on a regular basis if it is what they have in mind?

It is a scientific, not a commercial mission. In fact Curiosities main mission to look for organic material to see if life could exist/may have existed in the past on Mars.

Given the vast costs involved, exploiting Mars for mineral its mineral wealth will be the realm of science fiction for many decades to come.

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The designation of this area: Yellowknife Bay, may be very apt. It apparently had something to do with Mars' watery past, yet it's not a stream bed, like the area where Curiosity landed. The discovery of sediment in the new area of interest, and images of what looks very like a shoreline, or set of parallel shorelines, suggest impounded water. If not an actual bay, perhaps a pond or lake. Remarkable that such structures could survive from Mars' remote past, and still be readily seen. Perhaps Mars' ancient wet period persisted, in a diminished form, for somewhat longer than anticipated.

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It's starting to sound like humanoid life could ahve survived on Mars eons ago. Perhaps we are the Martian left-overs. Wouldn't be ssomething if some type of bone residue was found somewhere near-by? This is a little far-fetched, but imagine a world that the inhabitants know is "dying". You see Earth near-by but find it inhabitted by Dinosaurs. You cause a climate change incident to cool the planet to kill the Dinos. Then you send colonies to the planet and start over as the ice melts.

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The spark of life is out there we just havent found it yet !

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It's starting to sound like humanoid life could ahve survived on Mars eons ago. Perhaps we are the Martian left-overs. Wouldn't be ssomething if some type of bone residue was found somewhere near-by? This is a little far-fetched, but imagine a world that the inhabitants know is "dying". You see Earth near-by but find it inhabitted by Dinosaurs. You cause a climate change incident to cool the planet to kill the Dinos. Then you send colonies to the planet and start over as the ice melts.

Truly stuff for the science fiction makers....but where does humans evolving from apes come into this? Does it mean that apes where the inhabitants on Mars? And clever apes they must have been if they found a way to reach Earth, let alone manage to change its climate first, and if they knew dinosaurs were here that means they would have visited here before. My question is how can these super intelligent apes with the technology to travel to Earth, not come here with the wheel instead of waiting years for it to be invented?

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Forgive my skepticism but i'm sure one of the primary missions is to find something worth mining

Freetoroam-the super apes arrived here on biodegradable craft and remember next time you see an ape in the jungle he'll have a super computer disguised as a tree that he'll be controlling large areas of the planet with and............i've lost the plot

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Forgive my skepticism but i'm sure one of the primary missions is to find something worth mining

Absolutely not. It's not a primary, secondary or any kind of objective of the mission.

Curiosity has 8 objectives, all scientific, none of them commercial. The objectives are:

Mars Science Laboratory: Mission Objectives

To contribute to the four science goals and meet its specific goal of determining Mars' habitability, Mars Science Laboratory has the following science objectives.

Biological objectives:

1. Determine the nature and inventory of organic carbon compounds

2. Inventory the chemical building blocks of life (carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous, and sulfur)

3. Identify features that may represent the effects of biological processes

Geological and geochemical objectives:

4. Investigate the chemical, isotopic, and mineralogical composition of the martian surface and near-surface geological materials

5. Interpret the processes that have formed and modified rocks and soils

Planetary process objectives:

6. Assess long-timescale (i.e., 4-billion-year) atmospheric evolution processes

7. Determine present state, distribution, and cycling of water and carbon dioxide

Surface radiation objective:

8. Characterize the broad spectrum of surface radiation, including galactic cosmic radiation, solar proton events, and secondary neutrons

Source: NASA/JPL - Curiosity Mission Objectives

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