Image credit: NASA
Perseverance collects the first sample of Mars
Those responsible for the NASA explorer project, which landed on the planet almost seven months ago, consider the news as “a great milestone”
The robotic Perseverance rover, which arrived on Mars last February after nearly seven months of travel from Florida, collected the first sample on Martian soil to analyze whether there was ever life on the red planet, according to the US space agency NASA.
It is a slightly wider piece of rock the thickness of a pencil taken from the Jezero crater, which along with about seven more will be part of the Mars Sample Return program, which plans to bring them to Earth by 2031.
“Getting the first sample under our belt is a huge milestone,” said Perseverance Project scientist Ken Farley of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). “When we return to Earth with these samples, they will tell us a lot about some of the early chapters in the evolution of Mars,” he added.
For Thomas Zurbuchen, a NASA scientist in Washington, it is “truly a historic moment.” He stressed that just as the Apollo missions to the Moon demonstrated the enduring scientific value of returning samples from other worlds for analysis here on our planet, so will this mission on Mars.
“This is a momentous achievement and I can’t wait to see the incredible discoveries made by Perseverance and our team,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.
For his part, Zurbuchen explained that using the most sophisticated scientific instruments on Earth, they foresee “amazing discoveries in a wide range of scientific areas, including exploring the question of whether life ever existed on Mars.”
In addition to identifying and collecting rock and regolith samples (broken rock and dust) while looking for signs of ancient microscopic life, Perseverance’s mission includes studying the Jezero region to understand the geology and ancient habitability of the area, as well as to characterize the past weather.
The sample, collected this Monday by the rover – NASA’s fifth on Mars after Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity – is deposited in one of the 43 hermetic titanium tubes that the spacecraft carried.
NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are planning a series of future missions to return the rover samples to Earth for further study.
The sampling process began on September 1 with the help of the Perseverance robotic arm drill. After completing the extraction, the arm maneuvered one of the rover’s cameras to photograph it before sealing the tube.
“The Sampling and Storage System is the most complex mechanism ever sent into space,” said Larry James, acting director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California. He added that such a mechanism “worked very well on Mars.”
For his part, Farley stressed that however intriguing the contents of the first sample are geologically, they will not tell the full story of this place because there is much Jezero crater to explore in the coming months and years.
Perseverance is also planning to collect samples from the Jezero crater delta, where a river and lake are expected to be inside the crater, a region may be especially rich in clay minerals.
On Earth, these minerals can preserve fossilized signs of ancient microscopic life and are often associated with biological processes, NASA explained.