NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has completed first-time use of a brush it carries to sweep dust off rocks.
Nearing the end of a series of first-time uses of the rover's tools, the mission has cleared dust away from a targeted patch on a flat Martian rock using the Dust Removal Tool.
The tool is a motorized, wire-bristle brush designed to prepare selected rock surfaces for enhanced inspection by the rover's science instruments. It is built into the turret at the end of the rover's arm. In particular, the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer and the Mars Hand Lens Imager, which share the turret with the brush and the rover's hammering drill, can gain information after dust removal that would not be accessible from a dust-blanketed rock.
Choosing an appropriate target was crucial for the first-time use of the Dust Removal Tool. The chosen target, called "Ekwir_1," is on a rock in the "Yellowknife Bay" area of Mars' Gale Crater. The rover team is also evaluating rocks in that area as potential targets for first use of the rover's hammering drill in coming weeks.
"We wanted to be sure we had an optimal target for the first use," said Diana Trujillo of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., the mission's activity lead for the Dust Removal Tool. "We need to place the instrument within less than half an inch of the target without putting the hardware at risk. We needed a flat target, one that wasn't rough, one that was covered with dust. The results certainly look good."
Honeybee Robotics, New York, N.Y., built the Dust Removal Tool for Curiosity, as well as tools for two previous Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, which included wire brushes plus rock-grinding mechanisms.
NASA's Mars Science Laboratory project is using Curiosity to investigate whether the study area within Gale Crater has offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory mission for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington.