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Monday, February 11, 2013
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Mars rover collects first bedrock sample

Nasa's Curiosity rover drilled this 0.8 inch deep hole on the surface of Mars as a test in advance of more drilling to collect samples for analysis to see if it ever harboured life. Photo: Dailymail

For the first time, Nasa's rover Curiosity used its on-board drill to collect a sample of Martian bedrock that might offer evidence of a long-gone wet environment, the US space agency said Saturday night.

Drilling down 2.5 inches into a patch of sedimentary bedrock, Curiosity collected the rock powder left by the drill and will analyse it using its own laboratory instruments, Nasa said in a statement.

This is the first time a robot has drilled to collect a Martian sample.

John Grunsfeld, Nasa associate administrator for the agency's Science Mission Directorate, said "The most advanced planetary robot ever designed is now a fully operating analytical laboratory on Mars."

The hole can be seen in pictures taken by Curiosity next to a shallower test hole nearby.

As images from the drilling operation streamed to Earth, some team members shared their excitement on social media.

The "full drill hole was a success! I'm sure it was LOUD and they heard the drilling action for MILES!" tweeted rover driver Paolo Bellutta.

Curiosity drilled into a rock named John Klein' after a Mars Science Laboratory deputy project manager who died in 2011.

In the next few days, ground controllers will command the rover's arm to process the sample by delivering bits of it to the instruments inside Curiosity.

Before the rock powder is analysed, some will be used to scour traces of material that may have been deposited onto the hardware while the rover was still on Earth, despite thorough cleaning before launch, Nasa said.

The drilling and analysis is part of Nasa's Mars Science Laboratory Project, which is using the Curiosity rover to figure out whether an area in Mars' Gale Crater ever offered a hospitable environment for life.

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