London: NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has not yet ingested the rock sample it picked up a week ago, but the mission’s scientists are hoping that it will happen very shortly.
The robot, which is investigating a deep crater on the planet, drilled into what appears to be a mudstone producing some grey powder produced in the process.
The sample that is sitting in the stem of the tool must be moved to the onboard labs for analysis.
John Grotzinger, the mission’s chief scientist, told BBC News that they have to first confirm that the powder has moved up the drill stem, and from there, it will go into something called the drill assembly, which is about as big as a hockey puck.
It is where the sample gets portioned before going through a set of tubes that takes it to some sieves, he said.
According to him, only particles measuring 150 microns (millionths of a metre) across, or less, will be sent to the two big labs in the belly of the rover - Chemin and Sam.
The scientists will describe the mineralogical make-up of the mudstone and try to identify any interesting carbon chemistry that might be present.
A couple of Curiosity’s survey instruments have already probed the powder - the mast-held laser spectrometer, Chemcam, and the X-ray spectrometer, APXS, on the end of the robotic arm. These devices can determine some of the basic chemistry in a target rock.
But the mission’s scientists may not disclose their results until Chemin and Sam have done their full-on analysis.