NASA Rover Drills Martian Rock, Looks for More Clues to Wet Past

The Curiosity rover became the first-ever robot probe to drill into Martian rock as it collected a sample that may reveal further clues about a wet environment in the planet’s past.

The hole, which measures 0.63 inches (1.6 centimeters) wide and 2.5 inches deep, was visible in images and other data sent back to Earth today by Curiosity, NASA said in a statement. The rover will use lab instruments to analyze rock powder collected by the drill, NASA said.

Controllers at the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration will issue commands to have Curiosity’s robotic arm process the sample for analysis. Some of the rock powder will also be used to scour traces of material deposited on the rover’s hardware before it left Earth, NASA said.

Curiosity arrived on Mars in August after a 352 million-mile (563 million-kilometer) journey and a subsequent plunge through the planet’s atmosphere that was dubbed “7 Minutes of Terror.” Scientists behind the $2.5 billion mission are trying to determine if Mars once had an environment capable of sustaining life.

Starting in 1976, Viking landers sent by NASA to Mars found geological features such as river valleys, grooves carved into rock and stream networks that typically form from large amounts of water and suggested that rain may have once fallen there.

The Spirit and Opportunity rovers that preceded Curiosity have demonstrated water flowed on the surface and soaked the ground. Spirit and Opportunity also measured minerals in rocks and soils.

Curiosity was launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Nov. 26, 2011.

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