NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover Begins Hammering First Rock

For the first time, NASA's Mars rover Curiosity, a 1-ton robot, has hammered into a Mars rock with its drill, taking the rover another step closer to initiating its first full-bore drilling operations.

Over the weekend, Curiosity hammered the rock using the arm-mounted drill's percussive action. This marked the completion of yet another test along the road towards spinning the bit and biting into the Red Planet rock for the first time.

Curiosity flight director Bobak Ferdowski wrote in a Twitter post, sharing a picture of the rock:

"We tapped this rock on Mars with our drill. Keep it classy everyone."

The drill on Curiosity can bore 1-inch into Martian rock, which is deeper than any rover has ever been able to go in the past. Using the drill along with its associated systems is a complex operation, so the mission team has been practicing and slowly building up to the first drilling activity by Curiosity on Mars.

Just last week, Curiosity performed some "pre-load" tests involving pressing down on a rock with its drill in several different places to see if the amount of force applied matched predictions. The robot has also been carefully evaluating its target rock, which is a part of the outcrop that the team has named "John Klein", after a former Curiosity deputy project manager who died in 2011.

The rover's primary goal is to determine if the Gale Crater landing site could ever have supported microbial life. The drill is seen as a key part of this mission as it will allow Curiosity to dig deep into Martian rocks for potential signs of former habitability.

The John Klein outcrop shows many signs of past exposure to liquid water, including light colored mineral veins that were likely deposited by flowing water ages ago.