Curiosity rover hammers down into Martian rock
London, February 4 : The US space agency's Mars rover Curiosity has used its drill system for the first time, hammering down briefly into a flat slab of rock on the floor of Gale Crater.
Images taken before and after the operation reveal the indentation left by the tool's action on Martian surface, where it landed last August.
Although previous rovers have scrubbed the surface of rocks, Curiosity is the first to carry the capability to drill inside them.
NASA engineers are taking a step-by-step approach to the procedure. They need to check both the rock and the drill are behaving as expected.
If the target slab is deemed suitable, a number of test holes are likely to be drilled - using the rotation as well the percussive action - before a powdered sample is picked up and delivered to Curiosity's onboard laboratories.
The rover's mission is to try to determine whether Gale has ever had the environments in the past that were capable of supporting bacterial life.
So detailing the composition of rocks is critical to this investigation, as the deposits in the crater will retain a geochemical record of the conditions under which they formed.