Curiosity rover bores into Mars for the first time

NASA's Curiosity rover, which is currently putzing its way around Mars, has just drilled its way into Martian soil for the first time, making a perfectly cylindrical hole on the surface of the Red Planet. The hole is approximately 0.8-inches deep and about 0.6-inches across. From the photo below, the hole looks much bigger, but it seems NASA only need just a slight sample of the planet's dirt.

The operation, which NASA calls the "mini drill test," is just the prequel to a full drilling that NASA will conduct sometime soon. If the drill shavings around the fresh hole pass visual evaluation by the rover's testing mechanisms, the rover team plans to proceed with the first full drilling in a couple of days.

The mini drill test was performed on a patch of flat rock called "John Klein," which is the same patch of land that other tests were run, including percussion-only testing and planned sample-collection drilling. The rover team plans to use Curiosity's laboratory instruments to analyze soil samples and learn about the environmental history, including whether or not life was present at any point in time.

Curiosity has been sitting in an area named Yellowknife Bay for a few weeks now, where it has also discovered that rocks in the area were at one time repeatedly flooded by water sometime in the past. NASA is being extremely careful and going very slowly with their experiments, and they say that full-drilling operations will be the most complex sequence the rover has yet to perform on Mars. Good luck, padawan!