The drill on NASA’s $2.5-billion Curiosity rover will break. This is not likely to happen within the robot’s scheduled two-year mission to explore Mars, but when it does, “all hell [will] break loose electronically,” Curiosity’s chief engineer Rob Manning told Space.com.The science team working at California’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory became aware of an issue with the drill about two months before the rover launched from Cape Canaveral on Nov. 26, 2011.
“At some point a bond in the drilling mechanism will fail, causing an electrical short that could threaten to knock out the entire rover,” Space.com writes.
Engineers did not have enough time to fully correct the problem, but figured out a way to mitigate a full-blown disaster. The solution involves shorting the rover’s power bus before it does any damage to the rest of Curiosity’s systems. The true test will come in a couple of years, after the plutonium-powered robot has used her drill to bore into Martian rocks in the search for signs of life.
The drill, located on the rover’s arm, will deliver powdered samples from the inside of rocks to instruments that can “ingest” those samples and figure out what they’re made of.
Right now the Mars team is scouting out prospective rock targets so Curiosity can start using her drill before the New Year rolls around.
Although Curiosity’s main mission is only planned for two years, NASA plans to keep operating the rover as long as it’s “scientifically viable.” The space agency’s other rover, Opportunity, landed on the Red Planet in 2004 on a three-month mission and is still going strong.
Watch Manning’s full interview with Space.com below:
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