After more than a month of preparations, Curiosity has finally drilled into a Martian rock and recovered samples to be analyzed. NASA labels this as the biggest achievement for the mission since landing on the surface of Mars. It's also the first time we've collected samples from below the surface of a foreign planet.Curiosity will analyze the samples it recovered over the next few days, though it will use some of the material recovered to scrub its drill of any contaminants left over from Earth.
The rover had already tested its drill last week, but only now drilled deep enough to recover samples. The hole bored by the high-powered drill was 1.6 centimeters wide and 6.4 centimeters deep (0.63 by 2.5 inches).
Curiosity's main goal on Mars is to look for signs of life in the planet's past. To do that, it will analyze samples and look at regions which look like they may have been affected by water at some point, like the gypsum veins it discovered in the last few weeks.
Digging below the surface is crucial, any signs of life or clues to Mars' past will be hard or impossible to find on the weathered surface.
The drill was the last of Curiosity's 10 scientific instruments to be tested, the rover is now fully operational. Curiosity will spend a few more weeks in the Yellowknife Bay and the Glenelg crater area.
After that, it will start towards its main target at the edge of Mount Sharp, some 10 km or 6 miles from its current location.
It's going to take a year or so to get there. Curiosity's main mission will take two years, but if the success of past rovers on Mars is any hint – Opportunity celebrated its ninth anniversary on the planet, Curiosity is going to be doing science for a lot more than that.