NASA Can Fix the Curiosity Rover's Broken Drill On Mars

Tuesday, 24 October 2017 - 7:22PM
Space
Mars
NASA
Tuesday, 24 October 2017 - 7:22PM
NASA Can Fix the Curiosity Rover's Broken Drill On Mars
NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
Don't you just hate it when your expensive piece of electronic equipment breaks and it's not covered by a warranty? It could be worse - imagine if it had broken while on Mars. Good luck getting an engineer out to give it a full service from that distance.

Such is the problem with NASA's stalwart Curiosity rover, which has been exploring Mars since 2012. Last year was a rough time for the poor little rover - in July, Curiosity developed a bizarre software glitch, while in December, its important built-in drill broke, leaving it unable to take samples of rock for study.

The problem wasn't that the drill itself was damaged - that continues to function just fine. Instead, there's been some wear and tear on the servo within Curiosity which extends the drill safely, meaning that it's not possible to correctly position the drill while using the safety stabilizers that prevent the tool from breaking off entirely.



So what's the solution? After almost a year of attempting to come up with the perfect workaround for the problem, NASA scientists have ultimately decided to just go ahead and use the drill anyway. Actually, engineers have been running tests for most of the last ten months attempting to figure out exactly what the worst case scenario would be when using Curiosity's drill without the proper safety function in place.

Conducting tests on a replica of Curiosity that exists back on Terra Firma, NASA has ultimately concluded that the danger of the drill breaking isn't too great so long as the tool is used very, very carefully.

So, having proven that it's possible to override Curiosity's safety protocols and drill down into the Martian surface without stabilizers, NASA has decreed that the little rover can now resume the use of its tool in order to collect data on the planet's rocks and boulders.

This is good news, as the drill's ability to provide a look at the various layers of rock on Mars is what gives us the best understanding of what changes have occurred in the environment over time. In the continuous quest for evidence of Martian life, this drill might well be our best chance of actually finding something to write home about.

The coast isn't entirely clear yet, though - NASA's scientists first have to prove that Curiosity is capable of drilling without shaking too much. If all goes well in an initial test, this little rover make be back to work at full capacity, leaving little holes in the local terrain as it travels around in search of Martian mysteries.
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