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NASA's Mars MacGyvers get rover's stalled rock lab rolling

The Curiosity rover is once again able to analyze pulverized bits of Mars.

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Amanda Kooser
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Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
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Curiosity's camera caught sight of the drill bit over one of the rover's sample inlets.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA's Mars Curiosity rover team is made up of a bunch of MacGyvers who come up with creative solutions to fix things when they go wrong. The rover's drill has been a problem for over a year, but now Curiosity is back to both drilling and analyzing powdered rock samples thanks to some clever engineering.

The motor used to extend the drill stopped working in late 2016, so NASA figured out a new percussive drilling method that makes the rover work more like a human would. It successfully drilled into a rock called "Duluth" last month. 

The next challenge involved delivering that powder to the rover's on-board laboratories for analysis. The technique is named "feed extended sample transfer" and involves trickling a tiny amount of rock powder from the drill into the small inlets that lead to the rover's on-board laboratories. 

The method worked and scientists are celebrating. "In my personal opinion, it was probably one of the top five most excellent planning days we've had on the mission to date," Curiosity team member Abigail Fraeman writes in an update. 

"This represents a huge accomplishment for the tireless engineers who've worked over a year to learn to operate the vehicle in a way it was never designed to work." 

Curiosity can now get to work studying the mineralogy of the sample and learn more about the geology of the rover's location at Mount Sharp in the Gale Crater. 

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