NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity is very close to drilling into its first rock on the Red Planet, with the set-up operation likely to begin next week, it has been revealed.
According to lead scientist John Grotzinger, after breaking for the holidays, the mission team would be raring to undertake the task in the coming days.
The robot has driven about 650m from its landing site, dropping down into a depression known as Yellowknife Bay.
It is in this depression that the target rock will probably be chosen, the BBC reported.
All of Curiosity’s instruments have been commissioned, and the drill is the only tool that has yet to be deployed.
Its hammer action will enable the device to retrieve powdered samples from up to 5cm inside the rock, which can then be passed to the rover’s onboard laboratories for analysis.
As Curiosity trundled through Yellowknife Bay in December, it used its survey instruments to try to identify the most promising candidate rock.
This equipment comprises the mast-mounted colour cameras and laser spectrometer, and the arm-held hand lens camera and X-ray spectrometer.
Yellowknife was chosen as a destination because it represents a different type of rock terrain to the one on which Curiosity landed in August and on which it has done most of its driving.
Satellite observations indicate that this landscape has a high thermal inertia - at night it loses heat more slowly than the terrains that adjoin it in the local area.