NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover is once again drilling the surface of Mars. On May 20, the robotic vehicle used a new drilling technique to drill into a Martian rock named “Duluth” for the first time since 2016.
The rover managed to drill a hole measuring two inches deep, and about 0.6 inches wide.
The rover team back at Earth worked on a new drilling method called Feed Extended Drilling. As part of this technique, the rover’s extended robotic arm is leveraged to push the drill forward into the rock. Several tests were conducted at home to see if the method would work and it did.
“The team used tremendous ingenuity to devise a new drilling technique and implement it on another planet,” said Steve Lee, Curiosity Deputy Project Manager of JPL, in a statement. “Those are two vital inches of innovation from 60 million miles away. We’re thrilled that the result was so successful.”
Curiosity’s drilling capability was knocked out of business in December 2016, when the motor that moves Curiosity’s drill back and forth became unreliable.
“If all goes well and we can continue drilling, the science team hopes to learn how the ancient climate at Gale crater, and the prospects for life there, changed over time,” Ashwin Vasavada, the Curiosity Rover’s project scientist, said.
Engineers say that despite the success of the new drilling technique, they still have work to do. The team will continue to look at the data to determine where improvements can be made and will continue testing drilling techniques.
Drilling is a vitally important part of Curiosity’s capabilities to study Mars. Inside the rover are two laboratories that are able to conduct chemical and mineralogical analyses of rock and soil samples.