In a Mars first, the Curiosity rover drilled into a rock and prepared to dump an aspirin-sized pinch of powder into its onboard laboratories for closer inspection.
The feat marked yet another milestone for the car-size rover, which landed last summer to much fanfare on an ambitious hunt to determine whether environmental conditions were favorable for microbes.
Using the drill at the end of its 7-foot-long robotic arm, Curiosity on Friday chipped away at a flat, veined rock bearing numerous signs of past water flow. After nearly seven minutes of pounding, the result was a drill hole 2 1/2 -inches deep.
The exercise was so complex that engineers spent several days commanding Curiosity to tap the rock outcrop, drill test holes and perform a ”mini-drill” in anticipation of the real show. Images beamed back to Earth overnight showed a fresh borehole next to a shallower test hole Curiosity had made earlier.