Good news for the NASA Mars rover, as researchers in charge of Curiosity announced the machine might be able to use its arm again starting next week. The NASA Mars expedition was put in jeopardize last month when Curiosity short-circuited while drilling into Martian rock in search of signs of life on the Red Planet, and hasn’t been used since.
In its quest to gather Martian rock, the rover uses the drill on its arm. The device is relying on both rotation and percussion for efficient work. Experts found during tests they conducted on Curiosity’s activity that there seemed to be a short for under one-hundredth of a second. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineers expressed their confidence on Monday that they narrowed down the possibilities of the short-circuit to a malfunctioning drill bit. “The most likely cause is an intermittent short in the percussion mechanism of the drill. After further analysis to confirm that diagnosis, we will be analyzing how to adjust for that in future drilling,” as Jim Erickson, the man in charge of the Curiosity Project, explained for the media.
His colleague, deputy project manager Jennifer Trosper, believes in the rover’s capability to continue its experiments without further risks, once the problem is solved. She even raised the possibility of using Curiosity it its current status, while the team of researchers is looking for the most adequate solution, although the digging might take longer.
The Curiosity Mars rover – launched from Cape Canaveral on November 26, 2011 – cost NASA 2.5 billion dollar and it’s been on the Red Planet since August 2012. Designed mainly to drill and collect rock samples, the machine’s main purpose is to determine whether Mars is or was ever capable of supporting life. NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Project experts also hope to determine changes occurred in the planet’s natural conditions. Now that the technical problems have been detected, Curiosity should be able to resume its mission in a few days, a week maximum.
So far, the rover obtained a drilled sample way up to 2.5inches from a bulge named Telegraph Peak by the scientists. The sample, and others Curiosity might obtain during its mission, is considered the key in the analysis. Trosper said the team is cautiously optimistic about the results and that she and her colleagues are trying “to get these things as much life out of them” as possible.
Last year, the Mars rover identified compounds necessary for life to form. Once its repairs are complete, Curiosity will probably embark on its next mission to climb the 5.5 km-high Mount Sharp. This enterprise will offer analysts on Earth the chance to determine changes occurred in Martian environmental conditions.
Image Source: The Science Times