The Mars rover Curiosity is set to start scooping up the first samples of sand from the red planet.
The rover landed in Mars’ Gale Crater in August and has driven three-tenths of a mile since then. NASA now believes that Curiosity is sitting at the head of an ancient alluvial fan where water ran through the crater millions of years ago.
Extracting samples from the surface will be the first use of Curiosity’s on board laboratory in experiments designed to determine if Mars ever had environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.
Before the analysis can begin, Curiosity must first rid itself of all Earthly residue, which would compromise its findings. To do that, it will rinse its robotic arm by shaking fine dust through its components.
Once the rinsing is complete, Curiosity will deliver a pill-sized amount of sand to its lab for analysis. And the rover will remain parked in its location for a few weeks while the experiments are carried out.