LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE - Mark another first for the Curiosity rover, which has successfully drilled into Mars bedrock and collected a sample, Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineers confirmed Wednesday.
It's the first time any rover has bored into a planet other than Earth, and it's part of Curiosity's final round of equipment testing on a mission to find out whether conditions on Mars could ever harbor life.
"In the five-decade history of the Space Age, this is indeed a rare event," JPL rover planner and drill engineer Avi Okon said during a news conference.
Curiosity drilled a 2.5-inch hole into flat rock earlier on Feb. 8, collecting a sample of fine-grained sedimentary bedrock. Wednesday's confirmation was that the sample had made it through the rover's mechanisms and into its sampling scoop, part of the deliberate pace Curiosity scientists are taking.
The next step will be testing the rock's composition using the Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument and Sample Analysis at Mars instrument, both of which have been tested in the past few months.
"It's a real big turning point for us," Curiosity project scientist John Grotzinger said. "Everything we do is a repeat of something we've done before. We're very excited to move on beyond that."
Scientists believe Curiosity's current location will show evidence of a past wet environment/
Rover engineers had to contend with some software glitches and problems with a sieve during the drilling operation, but both complications are considered minor.
Part of the welding on the sieve has come loose, but engineers plan to reduce the time spent sieving from one hour to 20 minutes, which is expected to be enough to collect an adequate sample while preserving the hardware.