NASA’s science robot Perseverance Rover has collected the first sample of Martian rock, a core from Jezero Crater slightly thicker than a pencil. Mission controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California on Monday received data that confirmed the historic milestone.
The core is now enclosed in an airtight titanium sample tube, making it available for retrieval in the future. Through the Mars Sample Return campaign, NASA and European Space Agency are planning a series of future missions to return the rover’s sample tubes to Earth for closer study. These samples would be the first set of scientifically identified and selected materials returned to earth from another planet.
“NASA has a history of setting ambitious goals and then accomplishing them, reflecting our nation’s commitment to discovery and innovation,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “This is a momentous achievement and I can’t wait to see the incredible discoveries produced by Perseverance and our team,” he added.
Along with identifying and collecting samples of rock and regolith (broken rock and dust) while searching 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 its past climate.
Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said using the sophisticated science instruments, NASA team expects “jaw-dropping discoveries across a broad set of science areas, including exploration into the question of whether life once existed on Mars.”
Larry D. James, interim director of JPL, said that a worldwide team of NASA, industry partners, academia, and international space agencies contributed to this historic success.
Perseverance is currently exploring the rocky outcrops and boulders of “Artuby,” a ridge line of 900 meters bordering two geologic units believed to contain Jezero Crater’s deepest and most ancient layers of exposed bedrock.
“Getting the first sample under our belt is a huge milestone,” said Perseverance Project Scientist Ken Farley of Caltech. “When we get these samples back on Earth, they are going to tell us a great deal about some of the earliest chapters in the evolution of Mars. However, there is a lot of Jezero Crater left to explore, and we will continue our journey in the months and years ahead,” he added.
Perseverance rover, the flagship science robot in NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration mission, had touched down on the Red Planet on February 18.
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