It was just a scoop of dirt, but NASA scientists applauded more loudly than they had since the Curiosity rover landed on Mars.
Collecting and analyzing the first Martian soil sample is a "huge milestone" in the Curiosity mission, deputy project scientist Ashwin Vasavada told the Los Angeles Times on Monday.
A primary purpose of this project, after all, is to determine whether there were conditions on Mars at one time that could have fostered microbial life.
"There was a lot of clapping yesterday, probably the most since landing, when we saw a nice full pile of soil in the scoop," Vasavada said. "It looks and acts a lot like baking flour. And just like any baker, we shook the scoop to make sure we had a nice level spoonful. This also mixes up the soil for us, to ensure a good analysis."