A pebble that jammed the rock abrasion tool on the Mars rover Opportunity shook loose and the device has resumed functioning normally, NASA officials said Wednesday. The tool's rotors, which had become jammed two weeks ago, successfully spun a wire brush late Monday to scrub dust off a rock inside "Endurance Crater," scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said. Opportunity and its twin robotic rover, Spirit, both have the rock abrasion tool, which is used to brush and grind rocks. "We had planned to kick out that pebble by turning the rotors in reverse, but just the jostling of the rover's movements seems to have shaken it loose even before we tried that," said Stephen Gorevan of Honey Robotics, lead scientist for the tool on both rovers. "The rock abrasion tool has functioned beyond engineering expectations as a window for Mars exploration rover science." Opportunity's operators plan to use the tool's grinding rotor to cut a hole to expose the interior of the rock in "Endurance Crater," which is a stadium-sized depression on the Red Planet. Opportunity has now used its rock abrasion tool 18 times to grind rocks and five times to brush them. Spirit has used the tool nine times to grind and 28 times to brush. Opportunity and Spirit have conducted four extra months of exploration after completing their primary mission in March, informs USATODAY. According to North County Times, NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity was back on track Wednesday after a rock abrasion tool that had been jammed by a pebble was fixed, a Jet Propulsion Laboratory official said. The abrasion tool began to dust off two patches of a rock inside "Endurance Crater," and data received yesterday confirmed that the tool's grinding rotor was completely recovered, said JPL's Guy Webster. Scientists planned to use the rotor to cut a hole exposing the interior of the rock. "We're delighted to be using Opportunity's rock abrasion tool again," Stephen Gorevan of Honeybee Robotics, lead scientist for that tool on both rovers, said. "We had planned to kick out that pebble by turning the rotors in reverse, but just the jostling of the rover's movements seems to have shaken it loose even before we tried that. The rock abrasion tool has functioned beyond engineering expectations as a window for Mars Exploration Rover science. The new imaging consultation makes it clear that not only does the tool appear to be undamaged, but also that its teeth have not worn very much at all." NASA's twin robotic geologists Spirit and Opportunity -- which have been on Mars since January -- have completed their three-month primary missions on Mars. Opportunity's rock abrasion tool has now been used 18 times to grind into rocks and five times to brush rocks. Spirit's tool has ground nine times and brushed 28 times. The aim of the project was to determine if there ever was enough water on the now-frozen planet to support life. Opportunity, which bounced down in a shallow crater on Mars' Meridiani Planum on Jan. 24, found evidence in March that its landing site was once "drenched" with water, NASA announced earlier. Scientists now believe a salty sea once existed in the area. Spirit, which landed Jan. 3 in Mars' Gusev Crater, found evidence earlier this year of limited past water activity at its site.
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