NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has finally started drilling into a clay-bearing unit on the lower slopes of Mount Sharp, collecting samples that formed in the presence of water. Reaching this area has been a major objective ever since Curiosity landed in Gale Crater seven years ago.
Back on Earth, meanwhile, engineers in Germany and the United States carry out additional tests to figure out what's preventing a hammer-like device
Launched in May 201
The HP3 instrument was designed to use a spring-mounted internal hammer- like device – the mole – to throw its way down into the martian soil by trailing a cable carrying sensible temperature sensors.
After some 10,000 hammer blows, the probe expected to reach maximum depth of about 5 meters (15 feet). The goal is to measure the thermal conductivity of the soil, helping scientists to extrapolate the temperature all the way to the core.
But the mole fell into a sub-surface obstacle of some sort on February 28th, after knocking its way just 30 centimeters ( 1 foot) into the red planet's soil.
"We are investigating and testing various possible scenarios to find out what led to the 'mole' stopping," said Torben Wippermann, test leader at the DLR Institute of Space Systems in Bremen. Engineers are studying seismic data collected during the initial hammering session to gain insights into what sort of obstacle is blocking the mole from descending and studying the effects of different types of sand.
An exact replica of the mole has been sent to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for additional tests in a simulated Mars surface environment.
"The possible measures to let the instrument hammer into the ground must be tested and analyzed on Earth", said the German Aerospace Agency in a statement. Hammering is not expected to be attempted again for several weeks.
Curiosity's more traditional drill had no problem burrowing into the clay-bearing unit at Mount Sharp. "Curiosity has been on the road for almost seven years," said Curiousity Project Manager Jim Erickson. "The curiosity has been on the road for almost seven years," said Curiousity Project Manager Jim Erickson. "Finally, drilling at the clay-bearing unit is a major milestone in our journey up Mount Sharp."
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter detected the clay-bearing unit well before Curiosity landed on Mars in 2012. Mission scientists believe the samples collected by the The rover will light the role of water in the formation of such strata on Mount Sharp.