"Drilling into a rock to collect a sample will be this mission's most challenging activity since the landing. It has never been done on Mars," project manager Richard Cook, with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said in a statement.
"We won't be surprised if some steps in the process don't go exactly as planned the first time through," he added.
Curiosity will first use the drill, located at the end of its 7-foot-long robot arm, to make a few test holes so any lingering contamination from Earth will be removed.
Later, samples will be taken from the rock and the vein and passed into the rover's onboard laboratory to determine their chemical and mineral composition.
Pictures show the area around the rock is filled with unusual features, such as veins, nodules, a pebble embedded in sandstone and maybe even some holes in the ground. Other data from orbit show the area cools off more slowly at night than surrounding terrain. Scientists have yet to learn why.
"This area had a different type of wet environment than the streambed where we landed - maybe a few different types of wet environments," Grotzinger said in a NASA press release.