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Mars rover confirms drilled Martian rock sample

Xinhua | Updated: 2013-02-21 10:21

Mars rover confirms drilled Martian rock sample

The first sample of powdered rock from Mars extracted by the NASA's Curiosity rover drill is pictured in this February 20, 2013 NASA handout photo. The image was taken after the sample was transferred from the drill to the rover's scoop. The scoop is 1.8 inches (4.5 centimeters) wide. The image has been white-balanced by NASA to show what the sample would look like if it were on Earth.[Photo/Agencies]

WASHINGTON - NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has relayed new images confirming that it has successfully obtained the first sample ever collected from the interior of a rock on another planet, US space agency NASA announced Wednesday.

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 (JPL).

"Many of us have been working toward this day for years. Getting final confirmation of successful drilling is incredibly gratifying," said JPL's Scott McCloskey, drill systems engineer for Curiosity. "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 instrument and Sample Analysis at Mars instrument.

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.

Curiosity, loaded with the most-sophisticated instruments ever used to explore another world, touched down on the Red Planet on August 6 last year. It will use its 10 instruments to investigate whether conditions have been favorable for microbial life and for preserving clues in the rocks about possible past life.

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