NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity made the historic first drilling ever attempted on the Red Planet on February 6. The drilling, at a patch of flat, vein-bearing rock called "John Klein" at Gale Crater, was the 4X4-sized robot’s first full use of its drilling unit and a major test before it uses the drill to collect pulverized rock samples for analysis in its internal laboratories.
The February 6 ”mini drill” test follows closely on from Curiosity’s weekend trials when it used its drill for a percussion-only tryout. This time, the nuclear-powered explorer used both percussion and rotation to bore about 0.8 inch (2 cm) into a rock.
The purpose of this was to produce cuttings for evaluation to determine if the drill is operating properly before the gathering of drilling samples begins in earnest. If these cuttings check out, the way will be clear to begin the first sample drilling in a few days.
When sampling drilling starts, it will also be in the “John Klein” area because it is a rock formation that shows signs of one or more wet environments in the Martian past. This will tie in with Curiosity’s two-year mission to seek out areas of Mars where life might have once or still could exist.