Mars rover flexes its robotic arm

Nasa's Mars rover has taken another small step for robot-kind.

Engineers at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California said the rover Curiosity flexed its robotic arm for the first time since before its November launch.

They say they will now spend weeks testing and calibrating the seven-foot-long arm and its extensive tool kit - which includes a drill, a scoop, a spectrometer and a camera, in preparation for collecting its first soil samples and attempting to learn whether the Martian environment was favourable for microbial life

Engineers on Monday unfurled the arm, extended it forward using all five of its joints, then stowed it away again.

The test is part of a full health check-up Curiosity has been undergoing since landing in an ancient crater on the red planet on August 5.

Meanwhile, Nasa announced a new mission, set to launch in 2016, which will take the first look into the deep interior of Mars to see why the Red Planet evolved so differently from Earth as one of the solar system's rocky planets.

The mission will be named InSight ((Interior exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport).

It will place instruments on the Martian surface to investigate whether the core of Mars is solid or liquid like Earth's, and why the crust of Mars is not divided into tectonic plates which drift, as is the case with Earth's.