NASA's Curiosity Rover is Fully Functional Once Again as it Successfully Drills Into Martian Soil
While Curiosity likely has at least several years left on Mars, it did run into some trouble back in 2016 when its drilling tool broke down due to a technical glitch. NASA spent a long time looking into solutions while the rover whirred around Mount Sharp without a working drill, but earlier this week, they announced that they finally had a fix that was ready to be field tested.
As of today, that field test was completely successful, and Curiosity can once again bore into Martian rocks. The test was performed on a rock nicknamed "Duluth", and the resulting hole measures about 2 inches (50 millimeters) deep into the target.
This hole may not look like much, but it represents a healthy rover at work - besides, how often do you get to see beneath the surface of Mars?
Peep the technique. A clever solution devised by the team on Earth enabled me to use my drill again to take science samples on Mars for the first time in over a year. https://t.co/HmtGmPVXuI pic.twitter.com/BNTEfPTRze— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) May 23, 2018
Since the drill itself is still glitching out, NASA devised a workaround: since the 7 foot (2 meter) robotic arm attached to the drill still works, the new method uses the entire arm in a freestyle manner called "percussive drilling". This added percussive movements turn the shaking arm-and-drill combo into a jackhammer, one that ended up being strong enough to compensate for the drill's inability to move vertically following the glitch.
It was back in February that an early version of this new method was designed, but the final version with added jackhammer motion wasn't completed until just before this test. According to systems engineer Tom Green at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, they still have plans to perfect the method further, as he explained in an official statement from NASA:
NASA is very proud of that two inch hole, but since it was drilled thanks to months of strategizing from millions of miles away on another planet, that pride seems justified here.