After six months on the surface of Mars, the Curiosity rover has finally commenced the drilling and analysis of Martian bedrock. This morning, NASA released an image of a tiny hole on the Martian surface, measuring 0.63 inches across and 2.5 inches deep, and tweeted that the mission to drill and collect a sample was a success. The site for drilling, situated in the Gale Crater, was chosen because it showed signs that water may have once flowed over it in the past.
To collect the sample, Curiosity used the drill at the end of its seven-foot robotic arm to make a hole in the bedrock. Over the next few days engineers will slowly begin the process of analyzing the collected material, including performing checks to ensure it hasn't been contaminated with material from Earth. NASA associate administrator John Grunsfeld says Curiosity is "now a fully operating analytical laboratory on Mars," calling the event the biggest milestone since the rover landed on the planet. The agency hopes that Curiosity's analysis will tell us whether the Gale Crater has ever been capable of sustaining life. Previously, the rover used a laser to study the chemical composition of surface rocks.