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Curiosity Rover Uses Healed Robotic Arm For First Time To Deliver Rock-Powder Sample

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Curiosity rover's work on Mars was halted on Feb. 27 because of a short circuit that mission controllers have traced to the drill on its robotic arm.

On Thursday, March 12, NASA said that the robotic arm has begun moving again. The U.S. space agency said that Curiosity used its robotic arm on Wednesday to deliver a rock powder sample that was collected in February to the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin), an analytical instrument on board the rover.

The sample was from a rock target known as Telegraph Peak and, with its successful delivery, the team behind the mission intends to drive Curiosity away from the Pahrump Hills outcrop on Mount Sharp in the coming days.

"That precious Telegraph Peak sample had been sitting in the arm, so tantalizingly close, for two weeks," said Ashwin Vasavada, project scientist for the Curiosity mission. "We are really excited to get it delivered for analysis."

The rover had a short circuit while using the percussion mechanism of its drill to shake the sample powder into a processing device on the robotic arm. Tests conducted by scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and on the rover revealed that the probable cause of the short circuit was a transient short for the percussion action of the motor.

"The most likely cause is an intermittent short in the percussion mechanism of the drill," said project manager Jim Erickson. "After further analysis to confirm that diagnosis, we will be analyzing how to adjust for that in future drilling."

The arm's sample processing device will later deliver the sample material from the Telegraph Peak into the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite, and this will happen after SAM has prepared to receive the sample.

Since the Curiosity rover landed inside the Gale Crater two years ago, the drill has used both rotary and percussion action for collecting samples from six rock targets. John Klein, the first sampled rock, from an area near the rover's landing site, has provided evidence that met the primary science goal of the mission.

Analysis of the sample revealed that early in Mars' history, the Red Planet had environmental conditions that were favorable for supporting microbial life. The mission is currently looking for evidence about how the early environment of the planet evolved from wet to its current dry conditions.

In the coming days, the rover will go to higher ground from its current location in Pahrump Hills in order to explore more rocks.

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