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NASA Curiosity rover accidentally cracks Mars rock with its feisty drill

Sometimes drilling on the red planet doesn't quite go according to plan.

Curiosity got into the rock-breaking business with the Groken drill site on Mars. 

NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA's Curiosity rover is being a bit of a homewrecker on Mars and leaving wheel tracks and drill holes in its wake. The latest sign of activity is a cracked rock from a recent drilling session.

The rover put its drill to work to gather a rock sample for analysis. "In the process of drilling, Curiosity broke the rock, which can sometimes happen when we are close to an edge, but still collected enough sample to perform detailed analyses," said NASA-JPL mission operations engineer Ashley Stroupe in a rover update on Friday.

The Curiosity team is investigating some intriguing dark gray nodules in a drill location named "Groken," a tribute to the word "grok" from sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land. "Grok" comes from a fictional Martian language, but has been adopted on Earth as a way of saying you understand a concept.

"We're hoping that our study of the Groken drill target will allow us to grok the ancient history of Mars in a little more detail," said planetary geologist Mark Salvatore of the University of Michigan in a pre-drilling update from Oct. 7. 

Curiosity's drilling work has had its ups and downs (mostly ups). It once met a rock too hard to drill into and the team worked through some pesky mechanical problems in 2018, but were able to save the drill. Groken marks the 29th successful drill hole on Mars.

Rover tracks, drill tailings and broken bits of rock could be prime material for future space archeologists to study far in the future when humans are looking back on our early Mars explorations. 

Perhaps some day we'll put up a plaque: "Grok where Curiosity cracked Groken way back in 2020."