According to a NASA report, Curiosity, the Mars rover, is facing some technical issues that may impede its drilling abilities. Evidence of the problem first surfaced on February 27, when a power surge was absorbed by the rover’s sensors, causing a series of short circuits in its robotic arm.
Following the event, Curiosity automatically stopping functioning, waiting to receive further commands from scientists on Earth. At the time, the rover was in the middle of shaking a sample of rock powder, intended to be delivered to an onboard chemical laboratory.
James K. Erickson, the project manager, states that the most probable location of the short circuit is in the coil, which generates magnetic fields for moving a striker which then hammers the drill. According to the Daily Science Journal, although the technical issue may momentarily hamper the vehicle from carrying out tasks as planned, the engineers of the NASA do not believe that it will pose a threat to the overall project mission.
After all, the rover has followed the same procedures in 2013 and 2014 with no issues, so engineers will now have to repeat the test to pinpoint the problem and determine the severity of the damage. Erickson commented “If the surges of current are small enough, we might feel comfortable with just using it until it stops moving.” The drill should still be able to continue its work, although it may not be able to penetrate harder rocks without the hammer.
The other parts of the rover, on the other hand, are functioning regularly as Curiosity stands at the base of an 18,000-foot-tall mountain. Its next move is to climb up the mountain in order to gather information about the rocks in that region, which are composed of layers of sediments, dating back to an era when Mars was probably warm and wet. By doing so, scientists hope to be able to understand the changes that may have occurred in the climate of Mars over time.