NASA’s Curiosity rover is very close to drilling into its first Martian rock, with the set-up operation likely to begin next week.
After breaking for the holidays, the mission team would be raring to undertake the task in the coming days, said lead scientist John Grotzinger.
The robot has driven about 650 m 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.
All of Curiosity’s instruments have been commissioned. 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 5 cm inside the rock, which can then passed to the rover’s onboard laboratories for analysis.
“We are firing on all cylinders now and our last thing to do is drilling, and we really hope to start on that process beginning next week,” said the California Institute of Technology professor.
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 color cameras and laser spectrometer, and the arm-held “hand lens” camera and X-ray spectrometer.