WASHINGTON -- Mars Curiosity is about to take its first sip of the red planet's sand. But only after NASA's rover plays bartender to make sure the dry dust is shaken, not stirred.

The rover's scoop will dig into the sand Saturday. Then the action starts. The end of the rover's 220-pound arm will shake "at a nice tooth-rattling vibration level" for eight hours, like a Martian martini mixer gone mad, said mission sampling chief Daniel Limonadi said.

"It kind of looks and feels like if you open the hood of your car with the engine running," Limonadi said, making engine noises in a Thursday NASA telephone press conference.

That heavy shaking will vibrate the fine dust grains through the rover chemical testing system to cleanse it of unwanted residual Earth grease. That's important for the sensitive scientific instruments that are the keystone to the $2.5 billion mission that launched last year.

The rover landed in August and has traveled three-tenths of a mile, taking pictures and analyzing the Martian air.

For the next week or two, Curiosity will scoop, shake and dump sand out three times, like a robotic version of cleaning its mouth out with mouthwash, Limonadi said. The fourth time, the rover will slowly pour "a half a baby aspirin pill of material" into the mobile lab to start a complex chemical analysis, he said.

There's nothing that seems special about the sand that will be tested and that's why NASA picked it out. It's good to start with "boring safe Martian sand dune," Limonadi said.

The car-sized rover has a complex chemical lab, a scoop and a drill to look for the basic ingredients of life, including carbon-based compounds, nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur and oxygen. This will be the first time the chemistry lab will be used. In about a month, after going to a newer more interesting location, the rover will start drilling into the ground for samples.

___

Online:

___

Related on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • Curiosity at Work on Mars

    This artist's concept depicts the rover Curiosity, of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission, as it uses its Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument to investigate the composition of a rock surface. ChemCam fires laser pulses at a target and views the resulting spark with a telescope and spectrometers to identify chemical elements. The laser is actually in an invisible infrared wavelength, but is shown here as visible red light for purposes of illustration.

  • Daybreak At Gale Crater

    This computer-generated view depicts part of Mars at the boundary between darkness and daylight, with an area including Gale Crater beginning to catch morning light.

  • Curiosity Launch Vehicle

    The Atlas V 541 vehicle was selected for the Mars Science Laboratory mission because it has the right liftoff capability for the heavy weight requirements of the rover and its spacecraft.

  • Mars Science Laboratory Spacecraft During Cruise

    This is an artist's concept of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft during its cruise phase between launch and final approach to Mars. The spacecraft includes a disc-shaped cruise stage (on the left) attached to the aeroshell. The spacecraft's rover (Curiosity) and descent stage are tucked inside the aeroshell.

  • Curiosity Approaching Mars

    The Curiosity rover is safely tucked inside the spacecraft's aeroshell. The mission's approach phase begins 45 minutes before the spacecraft enters the Martian atmosphere. It lasts until the spacecraft enters the atmosphere.

  • Curiosity Inside Aeroshell

    The Curiosity rover and the spacecraft's descent stage are safely tucked inside the aeroshell at this point. The aeroshell includes a heat shield (on the right, facing in the direction of travel through the atmosphere) and backshell. The diameter of the aeroshell is 14.8 feet (4.5 meters), the largest ever used for a mission to Mars.

  • Mars Science Laboratory Guided Entry At Mars

    The mission's entry, descent, and landing (EDL) phase begins when the spacecraft reaches the top of Martian atmosphere, about 81 miles (131 kilometers) above the surface of the Gale crater landing area, and ends with the rover safe and sound on the surface of Mars. During the approximately seven minutes of EDL, the spacecraft decelerates from a velocity of about 13,200 miles per hour (5,900 meters per second) at the top of the atmosphere, to stationary on the surface.

  • Deceleration of Mars Science Laboratory in Martian Atmosphere

    This artist's concept depicts the interaction of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft with the upper atmosphere of Mars during the entry, descent and landing of the Curiosity rover onto the Martian surface.

  • Mars Science Laboratory Parachute

    This is an artist's concept of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover parachute system.

  • Curiosity While On Parachute

    This is an artist's concept of NASA's Curiosity rover tucked inside the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft's backshell while the spacecraft is descending on a parachute toward Mars. The parachute is attached to the top of the backshell. In the scene depicted here, the spacecraft's heat shield has already been jettisoned.

  • Curiosity And Descent Stage

    This is an artist's concept of the rover and descent stage for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft during the final minute before the rover, Curiosity, touches down on the surface of Mars.

  • Curiosity's Sky Crane Maneuver

    The entry, descent, and landing (EDL) phase of the Mars Science Laboratory mission begins when the spacecraft reaches the Martian atmosphere, about 81 miles (131 kilometers) above the surface of the Gale crater landing area, and ends with the rover Curiosity safe and sound on the surface of Mars.

  • Curiosity Touching Down

    This artist's concept depicts the moment that NASA's Curiosity rover touches down onto the Martian surface.

  • A Moment After Curiosity's Touchdown

    This artist's concept depicts the moment immediately after NASA's Curiosity rover touches down onto the Martian surface.

  • Curiosity Mars Rover

    This artist concept features NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, a mobile robot for investigating Mars' past or present ability to sustain microbial life.

  • Curiosity's Close-Up

    In this picture, the mast, or rover's "head," rises to about 2.1 meters (6.9 feet) above ground level, about as tall as a basketball player. This mast supports two remote-sensing instruments: the Mast Camera, or "eyes," for stereo color viewing of surrounding terrain and material collected by the arm; and, the ChemCam instrument, which is a laser that vaporizes material from rocks up to about 9 meters (30 feet) away and determines what elements the rocks are made of.

  • Mars Rover Curiosity

    This artist concept features NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, a mobile robot for investigating Mars' past or present ability to sustain microbial life.