Anticipation is mounting at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where the teams behind the Perseverance Mars Rover are preparing to collect the first-ever sample of Martian material, which is to be returned to Earth in a future mission, according to JPL.
Mission managers hosted a news conference on Wednesday to discuss their plans to direct the rover to drill into a Martian rock known as the “Cratered Floor Fractured Rough” in Jezero Crater and stow the sample away in a special tube until it can be retrieved by another spacecraft in the years ahead. The endeavor is expected to take 11 days to complete and is set to begin over the next two weeks, JPL said in a written statement.
Success would cement yet another historical achievement of the Perseverance team, according to NASA Associate Administrator for Science Thomas Zurbuchen.
“When Neil Armstrong took the first sample from the Sea of Tranquility 52 years ago, he began a process that would rewrite what humanity knew about the Moon,” he said. “I have every expectation that Perseverance’s first sample from Jezero Crater, and those that come after, will do the same for Mars. We are on the threshold of a new era of planetary science and discovery.”
After using an array of instruments at the end of the rover’s 7-foot-long arm to carefully analyze the areas to be sampled, the rover will drill into rock and earth, retrieve samples and store them in hermetically sealed tubes for storage, according to JPL.
The resulting core samples will be about the size of a piece of chalk.
“The next time the sample tube contents are seen, they will be in a cleanroom facility on Earth, for analysis using scientific instruments much too large to send to Mars,” according to the JPL statement.
Looking for evidence of ancient life on Mars is a primary goal of the mission, but Perseverance Project Scientist Ken Farley of Caltech said such evidence is not likely to be found in the first samples.
“Not every sample Perseverance is collecting will be done in the quest for ancient life, and we don’t expect this first sample to provide definitive proof one way or the other,” he said.
“While the rocks located in this geologic unit are not great time capsules for organics, we believe they have been around since the formation of Jezero Crater and incredibly valuable to fill gaps in our geologic understanding of this region — things we’ll desperately need to know if we find life once existed on Mars.”
More information on the Perseverance Mars Rover is available online at jpl.nasa.gov/missions/mars-2020-perseverance-rover.