60-Second Space

Curiosity Drills Mars for Answers

Even as a few of its sensors cause problems, the Curiosity rover became the first robotic visitor to bore into the Martian surface. John Matson reports

The Curiosity rover has achieved plenty of firsts in its six months on Mars. And the last first is especially noteworthy: on February 9th, Curiosity made the inaugural run of its drill, boring into a rock to extract a sample from the interior. It thus became the first robot ever to drill on Mars.

Curiosity has now gotten some use from most of its science instruments, but not all of them are working. At a conference at U.C.L.A., deputy project scientist Ashwin Vasavada explained that problems are facing the rover’s wind and humidity sensors:

“The humidity sensor is being calibrated. They think it’s going to produce some good data—it’s measuring a good signal. It’s just the physical units don’t quite make sense right now.”

Worse is the wind sensor, damaged during the rover’s landing. “The wind sensor is actually six different sensors. We lost two of them during landing, and the other four are proving pretty hard to interpret as well. So we actually have no wind data yet.”

A few glitches are to be expected. After all, the Curiosity rover—with its unprecedented size and complexity—is a first in and of itself.

—John Matson

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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