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Mars rover drills hole into rock; NASA cheers

| Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, 6:09 p.m.
REUTERS
Powdered rock surrounds a test hole (right) and the first hole made for sample collection by a drill mounted NASA's Mars Curiosity rover on Friday, Feb. 8. REUTERS

For the first time, a robot has drilled into a rock on Mars and collected a sample, and scientists are patting themselves on the back. The likelihood of high-fives also is extremely high.

The Curiosity rover has extended its robotic arm and used the drill carried there to bore a hole 0.63 of an inch wide and 2.5 inches deep into John Klein, as the Martian rock was dubbed. Within that hole, scientists believe, is evidence of the wet environments that existed on Mars eons ago.

The successful use of the drill alone has scientists in a tizzy. This means that Curiosity is “a fully operating analytical laboratory on Mars,” said John Grunsfeld, with NASA's Science Mission Directorate, in a news release.

“This is the biggest milestone accomplishment for the Curiosity team since the sky-crane landing last August,” Grunsfeld said.

Twitter geeks were applauding: “Holey Mars exploration Batman!” tweeted Sustainable2.

Mission project manager Richard Cook said in January that the drilling was the most significant engineering that the team has done since landing.

As the Los Angeles Times' Amina Khan reported, Cook said the terrain was a big unknown and thus, a big challenge. The area Curiosity rolled into is known as Yellowknife Bay, a place very different from the landing site at Gale Crater.

“It's like we entered a whole different world,” said mission lead scientist John Grotzinger.

Developing the tools to tackle “unpredictable rocks” in unknown terrain required a lot of painstaking work beforehand, said Louise Jandura in Saturday's news release.

Jandura of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada-Flintridge, Calif., said, “To get to the point of making this hole in a rock on Mars, we made eight drills and bored more than 1,200 holes in 20 types of rock on Earth.”

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