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Mars Curiosity Rover Drills For First Time
Relieved scientists say the Mars rover Curiosity has successfully drilled into the red planet for the first time.
Nasa has staked around $2.5bn (£1.6bn) on the ambitious experiment, which aims to discover whether Mars could once have harboured life.
A key part of the two-year mission is to collect samples of rock using a robotic arm and a sophisticated drill.
Curiosity then takes close-up photographs and examines the samples using its Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer, before beaming the results back to mission control in California.
The rover drilled around 2cm into the Martian landscape in a location known as John Klein.
Scientists hope the area holds vital clues about the planet's past, after tests revealed streams of water may have run across the surface many years ago.
The powdered rock generated during the "mini drill" test will be checked by a team Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who will then decide whether to push ahead with a more extensive drilling programme at the site.
Curiosity, which launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in November 2011, is fitted with 10 scientific instruments.
Measuring around 3m long, the rover can travel up to 200m a day and roll over obstacles up to 65cm high.
It will collect dozens of samples drilled from rocks or scooped from the ground as it explores an area larger than any previous Mars rover has covered.