NASA's Mars rover Curiosity drilled into Mars for a rock sample, to analyse for geologic and microbial life forms
NASA's Mars rover Curiosity drilled into Mars for a rock sample, to look for geological evidence and microbial life forms (Reuters)
  • The Nasa rover is currently transmitting HD images and video from the surface of Mars
  • Nasa's Mars Odyssey spacecraft detected huge deposits of water beneath the surface, across the planet - in the form of ice
  • Mars has the tallest mountain in the Solar System, the Olympus Mons. It rises up 27 kilometres above the surrounding plains
  • The atmosphere on Mars consists of 95 percent carbon dioxide, 3 percent nitrogen, 1.6 percent argon and trace amounts of water and oxygen

Nasa's Curiosity rover has, for the first time, used a drill carried at the end of its robotic arm to bore into the surface of Mars and collected a sample from its interior.

This is the first time any robot has drilled into a rock to collect a sample from the red planet.

The fresh hole, about 1.6 centimetres wide and 6.4 centimetres deep, can be seen in images and other data Curiosity beamed back to Earth on Saturday.

The rock is believed to hold evidence about the history of the planet, which once had a wet environment. The rover will use its laboratory instruments to analyse rock powder collected by the drill.

Curiosity's first drill target was a rock laced with veins of what appeared to be water-deposited minerals. The car-sized rover, which landed on Mars on 6 August for a two-year mission, is searching for the geological and chemical conditions needed to support and preserve microbial life.

"First drilling on Mars to collect a sample for science is a success," Nasa posted on Twitter.

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

"This is the biggest milestone accomplishment for the Curiosity team since the sky-crane landing last August, another proud day for America," he added.

For the next few days, ground controllers will command the rover's arm to process the sample, ultimately delivering portions to the instruments inside.

"We commanded the first full-depth drilling, and we believe we have collected sufficient material from the rock to meet our objectives of hardware cleaning and sample drop-off," said Avi Okon, drill cognisant engineer at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Other tasks that the rover has to perform are to find out whether Mars is or ever was habitable.