The Curiosity rover is gearing up for its biggest engineering task since landing on the surface Mars: Drilling into a rock on the Red Planet. The mission team has identified a flat rock within a depression called Yellowknife Bay as the first drilling target.
The drilling site is named “John Klein,” after a Mars Science Laboratory deputy project manager who died in 2011.
The area chosen is full of fractures and ridge-like veins that protrude above the surface. Scientists were first drawn to the spot by orbital observations that showed that this area of fractured ground cools more slowly than other terrain types, such as Curiosity’s landing site, a dry streambed about a third of a mile west of Yellowknife Bay.
“The orbital signal drew us here, but what we found when we arrived has been a great surprise,” project scientist John Grotzinger said in a statement. “This area had a different type of wet environment than the streambed where we landed, maybe a few different types of wet environments.”
In a press conference today, Curiosity Project Manager Richard Cook was hesitant to nail down a hard date for when drilling would begin (Curiosity is known to get distracted), but indicated that drilling should begin within the next two weeks if everything goes as planned.
Curiosity will drive up to the rock within the next few days. The first powdered samples that the rover collects by drilling into the rock will be used to clean out the drill. Then it will take another sample, dropping off the equivalent of half an aspirin tablet to the ChemMin and SAM instruments, which will determine the chemical composition of the Martian rock.
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.