NASA's Mars Curiosity rover has successfully collected and sampled a scoopful of sand and powdery material at the "Rocknest" site on the Red Planet.
The rover pulled up to the windblown, sandy and dusty location on October 2. According to NASA scientists, the Rocknest patch is approximately 8 feet by 16 feet (2.5 meters by 5 meters).
Diverse rocks nearby provide targets for investigation with the instruments on Curiosity's mast during the weeks the rover is stationed at Rocknest for its first scooping campaign.
The collected material is slated to be used for cleaning interior surfaces of the rover's sample-handling mechanism. It will be held and vibrated inside each chamber of the mechanism before the material is discarded.
Curiosity's Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis (CHIMRA) device, on the robotic arm, includes the scoop and the mechanism for sieving and portioning samples of soil and powdered rock.
The rover's ability to place scooped and sieved samples of soil into onboard laboratory instruments is an important part of the mission. Those instruments - Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) and Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) - will play a critical role in evaluating whether the study area has ever had a favorable environment for microbial life.
Next up for Curiosity? Testing the rover's capability to take powdered samples from rocks, using a percussive drill, for delivery to those same instruments.
After this phase, which will take a few weeks, the rover team plans to drive Curiosity about 100 yards eastward into the Glenelg area and select a rock as the first target for its hammering drill, with the aim of collecting powdered samples.
NASA’s Curiosity rover is slated to use a total of 10 science instruments to assess whether Mars has ever offered environmental conditions that could be considered favorable for the existence of microbial life.