On the mission's 61st Martian day, or sol (Oct. 7, 2012),NASA's Mars rover Curiosity used its soil scoop for the first time, collecting a scoopful of sand and powdery material at the "Rocknest" site. Imaging verified collection of the sample.
The collected material will be used for cleaning interior surfaces of the rover's sample-handling mechanism. It will be held and vibrated inside each chamber of the mechanism before the material is discarded. Curiosity's Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis (CHIMRA) device, on the robotic arm, includes the scoop and the mechanism for sieving and portioning samples of soil and powdered rock.
A Sol 61 raw image from Curiosity's left navigation camera, at http://1.usa.gov/OMDbxy, shows where the soil collected by the scoop was removed from the ground. The scoop leaves a hole 1.8 inches (4.5 centimeters) wide.
The rover's ability to put scooped and sieved samples of soil into on board laboratory instruments is an important part of the mission. Those instruments -- Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) and Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) -- will play crucial roles in evaluating whether the study area has ever had a favorable environment for microbial life. Still to be used for the first time is the rover's capability to take powdered samples from rocks, using a percussive drill, for delivery to those same instruments.
Sol 61, in Mars local mean solar time at Gale Crater, ended at 11:44 p.m. Oct. 7, PDT (2:44 a.m. Oct. 8, EDT).