NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance is preparing to collect its first rock sample, which will deliver the first ever Mars material to Earth.
The rover, which spectacularly landed on the red planet in April, spent a lot of time testing its systems and assisting the Ingenuity Mars helicopter by giving flight instructions to the groundbreaking aircraft. It also had time to take a pretty eye-catching selfie.
Perseverance will explore the area marked in the picture above. NASA / JPL-Caltech / ASU / MSSS
But NASA’s most advanced rover to date is about to gather dust as it extracts a rock sample to find out if the planet once supported any form of life.
In the coming days, the six-wheeled rover will travel to a location in Mars’ Jezero crater known as the crater floor broken floor. In an area of about 4 square kilometers, NASA could contain the deepest and oldest layers of the exposed bedrock of Jezero.
Persistence begins its task with the analysis of a small patch of light-colored cobblestone in the exploration area. When scientists think it’s of greater interest, Perseverance then drills a small sample of the rock “about the size of a piece of chalk.”
Once stored in the rover, other instruments can analyze it further. Perseverance will then deposit the sample in a special container for collection through a future mission that will transport it to Earth, where scientists will use even more advanced analytical tools.
While many mission observers hope the sample will provide evidence of ancient life on the distant planet, Ken Farley, a scientist with the Perseverance Project, warned against such expectations.
“Not every sample Perseverance collects is conducted in search of ancient life, and we don’t expect this first sample to provide definitive evidence in one way or another,” Farley said. “While the rocks in this geological unit aren’t great time capsules for organics, we believe they have existed since the formation of Jezero Crater and are incredibly valuable in filling gaps in our geological understanding of this region – things that we will urgently need to know whether we will find out that there was once life on Mars. “
Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s assistant science administrator, compares the upcoming sample collection with another notable one that took place in 1969: “When Neil Armstrong took the first sample from the Sea of Calm 52 years ago, he began a process that would rewrite what humanity was about knew the moon. I assume the first Perseverance sample from Jezero Crater and the following ones will do the same for Mars. We are on the cusp of a new era in planetary science and discovery. “
Perseverance’s mission objectives include not only finding signs of ancient life and helping send the first Martian rocks to Earth, but also characterizing the geology and past climate of the Red Planet and collecting data in order to make the first human journeys to support Mars.