SANTA’s presents came earlier than usual.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) reported that the Perseverance rover has deposited the first tube of rock samples in an area on Mars that will serve as humanity’s depot on the Red Planet.
The tube was deposited in the location called “Three Forks” on Wednesday, December 21.
A total of nine other tubes are expected to be dropped on the same location in the coming months.
According to NASA, the building of the depot is a significant step in the Mars Sample Return Campaign.
“Over the next two months, the rover will deposit a total of 10 tubes at the location, called ‘Three Forks,’ building humanity’s first sample depot on another planet. The depot marks a historic early step in the Mars Sample Return campaign,” the report read.
This depot will serve as a back-up should the rover fail to fulfill its mission. In this case, a pair of Sample Recovery Helicopters will recoup the sample tubes from the depot to finish Perseverance’s job.
The first sample tube that was dropped on the Red Planet’s surface contains a chalk-size core of igneous rock informally named “Malay” and was collected in a region of Mars’ Jezero Crater called “South Séítah” on January 31.
The NASA report also disclosed that the Perseverance rover has been taking duplicate samples from rock subjects that the mission selects. Currently, it has the other 17 samples, with one of them an atmospheric sample, in its belly.
NASA said the rover would deliver the samples to a future robotic lander. This robotic lander would then use its robotic arm to place the samples inside a containment capsule aboard a small rocket that would take off to Mars orbit. Then, another spacecraft would capture this capsule and send it back safely to Earth.
The collected samples are meant to facilitate more extensive research regarding the plant’s capability to sustain life.
Perseverance, with the nickname “Percy,” is a car-sized rover engineered to conduct explorations on Mars’ surface as part of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission. It was launched on July 30, 2020 and landed on Mars on February 18, 2021.
In a December 16 update, the space agency confirmed that the rover is “expected to begin building the first sample depot on another world.”
The Perseverance rover’s primary mission was centered on astrobiology. This includes “storing samples that may contain signs of ancient microbial life.”
Further, the robotic rover aims to characterize Mars’ geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration on the planet, and be the pioneer mission to gather and cache Martian rock and regolith.