In a hunt for discovering life on Mars, NASA's Curiosity rover has beamed back pictures confirming the first ever sample collected from the interiors of a rock on another planet.
No rover has ever drilled into a rock on any other planet and collected a sample from its interior, NASA said.
Transfer of the powdered-rock sample into an open scoop was visible for the first time in images received yesterday at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
"Seeing the powder from the drill in the scoop allows us to verify for the first time the drill collected a sample as it bore into the rock," said JPL's Scott McCloskey, drill systems engineer for Curiosity.
"Many of us have been working toward this day for years. Getting final confirmation of successful drilling is incredibly gratifying," McCloskey said in a statement.
The drill on Curiosity's robotic arm took in the powder as it bored a 2.5-inch hole into a target on flat Martian bedrock on February 8. The rover team plans to have Curiosity sieve the sample and deliver portions of it to analytical instruments inside the rover.
The scoop now holding the precious sample is part of Curiosity's Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis (CHIMRA) device.
During the next steps of processing, the powder will be enclosed inside CHIMRA and shaken once or twice over a sieve that screens out particles larger than 0.006 inch (150 microns) across.
Small portions of the sieved sample later will be delivered through inlet ports on top of the rover deck into the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument and Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument.
The sample comes from a fine-grained, veiny sedimentary rock called "John Klein," named in memory of a Mars Science Laboratory deputy project manager who died in 2011.
The rock was selected for the first sample drilling because it may hold evidence of wet environmental conditions long ago. The rover's laboratory analysis of the powder may provide information about those conditions.
NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project is using the Curiosity rover with its 10 science instruments to investigate whether an area within Mars' Gale Crater ever has offered an environment favourable for microbial life.