Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Perseverance Rover has sent back data confirming it has successfully collected and stowed its first Martian rock core sample.
The sample, which was drilled last week from a rock by the rover, is only a little thicker than a pencil, according to a statement issued by JPL. It’s the first of many scientists plans to collect and seal in airtight titanium tubes so they can be preserved and later returned to Earth for further study by a future mission in partnership with the European Space Agency.
If successful, it would represent the first time scientists have ever identified, selected and returned material to Earth from another planet, remarked NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.
“NASA has a history of setting ambitious goals and then accomplishing them, reflecting our nation’s commitment to discovery and innovation,” he said. “This is a momentous achievement and I can’t wait to see the incredible discoveries produced by Perseverance and our team.”
NASA Associate Administrator for Science Thomas Zurbuchen called the milestone “a truly historic moment.”
“Just as the Apollo Moon missions demonstrated the enduring scientific value of returning samples from other worlds for analysis here on our planet, we will be doing the same with the samples Perseverance collects as part of our Mars Sample Return program,” according to Zurbuchen. “Using the most sophisticated science instruments on Earth, we expect jaw-dropping discoveries across a broad set of science areas, including exploration into the question of whether life once existed on Mars.”
The rover drilled the core sample from a rock last week but only confirmed the collection process had been successful on Monday, according to JPL.
The rover’s Sampling and Caching System, which it uses to drill and stow the samples, is made up of more than 3,000 parts.
“[It] is the most complex mechanism ever sent into space,” said JPL Interim Director Larry D. James.
“Our Perseverance team is excited and proud to see the system perform so well on Mars and take the first step for returning samples to Earth,” James said. “We also recognize that a worldwide team of NASA, industry partners, academia, and international space agencies contributed to and share in this historic success.”
Perseverance is equipped with 43 collection tubes in all, which scientists plan to fill as the trekking around the surface of Mars’ Jezero Crater continues over the coming months and years.
The small bits of rock could hold massive scientific discoveries, said Perseverance Project Scientist Ken Farley of Caltech.
“Getting the first sample under our belt is a huge milestone. 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,” Farley said.
“But, however geologically intriguing the contents of sample tube 266 will be, they won’t tell the complete story of this place,” he said. “There is a lot of Jezero Crater left to explore, and we will continue our journey in the months and years ahead.”
More information on the Perseverance Mars Rover is available online at jpl.nasa.gov/missions/mars-2020-perseverance-rover.