NASA on Tuesday said its Curiosity Rover will soon drill into rocks that contain veins of light-colored minerals—thought to be hydrated calcium sulphates—in the hopes of finding signs of water. The agency’s engineers have given the thumbs up, so it’s only a matter of time before a sample is extracted and analyzed.
Curiosity has thus far roamed around the planet’s rocky terrain, occasionally zapping rocks and taking self portraits. NASA explained that the endeavor will be its most challenging yet—unprecedented, really—as Curiosity dives deeper into uncharted territory.
“The drill hardware interacts energetically with Martian material we don’t control, said Mars Science Laboratory project manager Richard Cook. We won’t be surprised if some steps in the process don’t go exactly as planned the first time through.”
First order of business will be to gather powdered samples from inside the rock itself, allowing Curiosity to gather more information about mineral and chemical composition. The planned excursion is actually not too far from the region its been investigating already, but NASA says the area outcropping of rocks had a “different type of wet environment than the streambed where [Curiosity] landed.”
NASA believes much of the composition being observed is similar to what’s found here on Earth, meaning there’s a high possibility that there was a presence of water on Mars. The final drilling won’t take place for a few weeks as final preparations are made. Until then, Curiosity will take other samples with its many instruments as it look to uncover the secrets lying below the martian surface.