NASA’s Curiosity rover has successfully drilled its first rock on Mars, officials at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced over the weekend.
The drill’s use is a Martian landmark -- the first time scientists have drilled into the surface. It's a key moment for for the Mars Science Laboratory mission as well, marking a coming of age of sorts for the rover. Since landing on the Red Planet on Aug. 5, Curiosity has tested each of its instruments, from its many cameras to its laser-zapping instrument called ChemCam, and the drill's use is the grand finale of the show.
Curiosity's drill is part of what makes this rover such a giant step up from its Martian predecessors Spirit and the still-running Opportunity, which landed in 2004. Unlike those twin rovers, Curiosity can actually sample rock, then carefully drop it into a hole in its body. Inside, a chemical lab made up of the Sample Analysis at Mars instrument and the Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument will analyze it (also a first for Martian science). A sieve will keep out any particles larger than six-thousandths of an inch.
The drill, which sits on the end of Curiosity’s instrument-laden arm, bored a 0.63-inch hole some 2.5 inches deep into a patch of sedimentary bedrock – fine-grained rock that could contain clues from past wet environments. The rock powder from this hole will be processed and analyzed by the suite of instruments in its belly.