A problem with drilling on Mars

Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right or below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.

In drilling a new hole while scientists considered Curiosity’s future route to Mount Sharp, the drill cut off operations prematurely.

Engineers think that the rock might have shifted during drilling, causing the robot rover to abort. They have ordered the rover to take a lot of pictures of the situation so they can figure out what happened.

I should note that engineers take a large risk every time they use Curiosity’s drill, as the design of the rover’s electrical system is such that the drill might short everything out while it operates. Thus, when I see a story about a problem with any drilling operation, I become very concerned. In this case, however, it appears to not be a problem with the rover itself.



  • Tom Billings

    Even if there is nothing wrong on *Curiosity*, the terrain itself could threaten the mission when drilling. If you drill into ground where there is ice to melt, from friction heating, and that water mixes with the soil, you could easily get a clay that grips, or several other possibilities that leave the drill stuck in the ground. Is there a mechanism to eject the drill if it gets stuck in the ground?

  • wodun

    Too bad we don’t station our telerobotic operators a little closer.

  • Competential

    Yes, they can eject the drill bit. They even have a couple of drill bits in reserve, stored on the front of the rover, which the arm can change to if one would break. All systems seem to have back-ups. If a Martian train ran over Curiosity, it would still be able to work and do some science. It could loose four wheels and still move around. That rover will be with us for a decade.

  • Competential

    We might simulate real time telerobitcs on Mars from Earth! This is such a great idea, I hope it can be tested with Curiosity. Its operations are painfully slow today. If this works it could work 24/7 always with geolocists at its steering wheel, I recommend that you watch this talk:
    “Telexploration: How video game technologies can take NASA to the next level”

  • Competential

    55 minutes into this lecture, the “Scarecrow” version of Curiosity is explained.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *