Historic Moment for NASA; first ever rock sample collected from Mars

NASA confirmed Monday that its Perseverance Mars rover succeeded in collecting its first rock sample for scientists to pore over when a future mission eventually brings it back to Earth.

“I’ve got it!” the space agency tweeted, alongside a photograph of a rock core slightly thicker than a pencil inside a sample tube. NASA said the rover had “captured, sealed, and stored the first core sample ever drilled on another planet, in a quest to return samples to Earth.”

On Monday, NASA announced that the rover had stored the sample in its interior, locked away in an airtight titanium tube. (I’m sure this will become a trivia question in the future so, for reference, the very first sample was stored in tube number 266.) This was the moment the team was waiting for, with one last manoeuvre required to show the robot’s complex sampling mechanism worked. And it worked flawlessly.

The rover attempted to sample a rock on Mars for the second time since its launch and succeeded in obtaining material that was slightly thicker than a pencil.

However, the photographs sent by the rover’s camera, Mastcam-Z,   have confirmed the presence of the rock inside its tube and it was able to take a picture of the contents of the still-unsealed tube with a little bit of maneuvering and transmit the results back to Earth.

NASA launched the Perseverance rover in hopes of finding proof of ancient microbial life on the red planet with a series of sophisticated tools on its turret. The rover landed on the Jerezo Crater—thought to be a former lakebed on Mars—in February.

Its first sampling attempt in August failed as the rock it drilled turned out to be too crumbly. But the rover persevered.

On Sept. 1, the space agency announced that data had arrived from the Mars rover indicating it had obtained a core from a briefcase-sized rock known as “Rochette.” But the team, ever the diligent scientists, wanted to be “extra certain” that was the case. To be sure, the rover would need to take a few photographs of the drill device with one of its cameras and get a few more shots of the rock sample it had drilled.

“For all of NASA science, this is truly a historic moment,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science, on Monday.   

Perseverance transferred sample tube serial number 266 and its Martian cargo into the rover’s interior today at 12:34 a.m. EDT to measure and image the rock core. The container was then hermetically sealed, and another image was taken.

Adam Steltzner, the NASA chief engineer on the mission, tweeted his congratulations on Sep. 4. “We got it,” he wrote.

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