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Mars Rover Takes A Break To Drill A Hole

NASA's Curiosity rover is on an epic trip to a distant mountain, but it took a brief break Wednesday to dip its drill into the Martian soil.

The drilling is taking place at a place called Waypoint Kimberley. The area is a point of convergence for several different types of terrain, says John Grotzinger, the rover's project scientist. The exposed rock and different formations made the way point a good place to "stop and smell the roses," he says.

Today [Wednesday], Curiosity used its drill to dig just a fraction of an inch into a hard sandstone bedrock. The goal was to make sure the rock responded as expected to the drill. Over the next few days, the rover will drill deeper and collect samples.

"We have lots of evidence that the sandstone was formed in an ancient river," Grotzinger says.

The minerals that bind the sandstone together will tell researchers more about the fluids that once flowed across it.

The rover is about halfway on its journey to a large sloping mountain known as Mount Sharp. Curiosity will gently ascend the mountain and gather samples that should show how the surface of Mars changed over its roughly 4.5 billion-year history. Researchers believe Mars was wetter early in its history but has now been dry for several billion years.

Grotzinger says that Curiosity could reach Mount Sharp by the end of the year.

"The rover is doing well," he says.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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