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.
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."