LOS ANGELES - To scientists' excitement, the Curiosity rover has completed its first drilling on Mars and is preparing to analyze a pinch of powdery rock.
Images beamed back to Earth overnight showed a fresh drill hole next to a test hole the rover made earlier.
The feat marked yet another milestone for Curiosity, which landed last summer to hunt for the chemical building blocks of life.
"This is the biggest milestone accomplishment for the Curiosity team since the sky-crane landing last August," said said John Grunsfeld, with NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, in a news release.
While previous Mars rovers have chiseled away at rocks, it's the first time one drilled down to obtain a sample. The exercise was so complex that engineers spent several days commanding Curiosity to drill test holes.
"We commanded the first full-depth drilling, and we believe we have collected sufficient material from the rock to meet our objectives of hardware cleaning and sample drop-off," said Avi Okon, drill cognizant engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
The next task is to transfer the powder to Curiosity's onboard laboratories to study the chemical makeup.
The rock Curiosity drilled is called "John Klein" in memory of a Mars Science Laboratory deputy project manager who died in 2011. Drilling for a sample is the last new activity for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project, which is using the car-size Curiosity rover to investigate whether an area within Mars' Gale Crater has ever offered an environment favorable for life.
After the drilling activities, Curiosity will spend nine months driving to a mountain.