Photos: NASA's Curiosity rover prepares to 'scoop and sample' Mars


This patch of windblown sand and dust downhill from a cluster of dark rocks is the "Rocknest" site, which has been selected as the likely location for first use of the scoop on the arm of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity.


NASA's Mars rover Curiosity cut a wheel scuff mark into a wind-formed ripple at the "Rocknest" site to give researchers a better opportunity to examine the particle-size distribution of the material forming the ripple.

The Mars Science Laboratory's Curiosity rover is taking new steps in its mission to determine if the Red Planet can support microbial life. Scientists have prepared the Curiosity to use a "scoop and sampling" mechanism for the first time, which will deliver soil on Mars' surface into analytical laboratories on the rover.

RELATED: Read KPCC's full coverage on the Mars Curiosity rover

Curiosity currently stands at "Rocknest," an 8 feet by 16 feet cluster of rocks where scientists want to test the arm.

"We have to do a fair amount of practicing with the scoop system in order to make sure w'ere using it safely and to clean out the system," Mission Manager Michael Watkins said in an afternoon new conference. "We put one wheel onto it and rotated it 30 degrees to test the cohesion of the sand and made sure it's good stuff to scoop."

The rover will use CHIMRA, the "Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis," to scoop and analyze the samples. CHIMRA is attached to the turret at the end of its 2.1 meter robotic arm.

Watkins praised the rover's "healthy and flawless" trek so far.

"We now have reached an important phase that will get the first solid samples into the analytical instruments in about two weeks," said Mission Manager Michael Watkins of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. "Curiosity has been so well-behaved that we have made great progress during the first two months of the mission."

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