SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Nation/World

October 6, 2012

Curiosity to scoop up Martian soil

LOS ANGELES — For the Mars Curiosity rover, it’s one “first-ever” after another.

The 1,982-pound explorer is now at a spot in Mars’ Gale Crater called Rocknest, ready to use its robotic scoop for soil samples. Scientists hope the samples will provide information crucial to the project’s central mission — determining whether there were conditions on the planet at some time that could have fostered life.

That’s microbial life, to be exact, but still — alien life. Four scoops of Martian dirt should be about right to provide new data to help solve this mystery.

“What makes Curiosity different from all other rovers is her ability to acquire samples of Mars soil and rock, and to analyze them in her onboard laboratories,” said Ashwin Vasavada in an interview yesterday morning with the Los Angeles Times.

“This is an exciting week for us,” said the deputy project scientist for the Curiosity mission, “since we’re just days away from doing just those things for the first time.”

Rocknest, says NASA, is a patch of windblown sand and dust, about 8 feet by 16 feet, a great site for scooping because the rover will be able to dig several times.

The first two scoops that the rover collects are just for cleaning out any last remnants of the home planet that might be clinging to the scoop.

“We’ve found a nice, thick pile of typical Mars sand,” Vasavada said, “chosen because of its familiar properties and its ability to clean out the hardware. Even in our cleanest assembly buildings, it was not possible to keep minute amounts of oils and other chemicals off of Curiosity. The sand and some vigorous shaking should remove the last bits of Earth from the tools and get them ready to study Mars like we’ve never studied it before.”

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Nation/World

Local News
  • Salem extends principal search SALEM -- Superintendent Stephen Russell has extended the search for three new principals, arguably the most important personnel decisions he will make in his three years as head of the public schools. Russell is about to hire principals to guide turn

    April 24, 2014

  • 140423_SN_KYU_CROSSWALK A safer place to cross

    PEABODY -- A little more than a year after tragedy struck, the new pedestrian traffic signal in front of St. Adelaide's Parish is installed and operational. "My dad worked his whole life in the service of his community, church and country, and it giv

    April 24, 2014 1 Photo 5 Stories

  • MBTA proposes commuter-rail fee increase SALEM -- The train to Boston is about to get more expensive. Across-the-board fare increases recently proposed by the MBTA would raise the price of single trips on the commuter rail by 25 to 50 cents and the cost of monthly passes from between $10 fo

    April 24, 2014

  • Unrepentant serial drunken driver gets 31/2 to 5 years PEABODY -- Despite what a judge and prosecutor called an attempt to "hijack" the proceedings in his case, a serial drunken driver from Peabody was sentenced to state prison yesterday. Right up to the end, Peter Hurley, 53, was adamant that he'd done

    April 24, 2014

  • pipes1 Sewerage repair delay sparks worry MARBLEHEAD -- Serious concerns are building over delays in the repair of a sewer pipe connecting Marblehead to the South Essex Sewerage District in Salem. The need for replacing the two pipes became apparent in March 2013, when one began to leak int

    April 24, 2014 2 Photos