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 ESA (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 our planet from another.
"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."
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 characterise the past climate.
The sample-taking process began when the rotary percussive drill at the end of Perseverance's robotic arm cored into a flat, briefcase-size Mars rock nicknamed ‘Rochette'.
After completing the coring process, the arm manoeuvred the corer, bit, and sample tube so the rover's Mastcam-Z camera instrument could image the contents of the still-unsealed tube and transmit the results back to Earth. After mission controllers confirmed the cored rock's presence in the tube, they sent a command to complete the processing of the sample.
Perseverance transferred sample tube serial number 266 and its Martian cargo into the rover's interior to measure and image the rock core. It then hermetically sealed the container, took another image, and stored the tube.
"With over 3,000 parts, the sampling and caching system is the most complex mechanism ever sent into space," said Larry D. James, interim director of JPL. "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. We also recognise that a worldwide team of NASA, industry partners, academia, and international space agencies contributed to and share in this historic success."
First science campaign
Perseverance is currently exploring the rocky outcrops and boulders of Artuby, a ridgeline of more than a half-mile 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. But however geologically intriguing the contents of sample tube 266 will be, they won't tell the complete story of this place. There is a lot of Jezero Crater left to explore, and we will continue our journey in the months and years ahead."
The rover's initial science foray, which spans hundreds of sols (Martian days), will be complete when Perseverance returns to its landing site. At that point, Perseverance will have travelled between 1.6 and 3.1 miles and may have filled as many as eight of its 43 sample tubes.
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