NASA Mars Photos Show How Perseverance Rover Made History by Collecting First Martian Sample

NASA's Perseverance rover has completed an important part of its historic mission on Mars, by collecting a sample of rock from beneath the surface of the Red Planet in a first for humans.

The sample, a core no thicker than a pencil taken from the Jezero Crater, is now encased within a titanium sample tube for later collection as part of the Mars Sample Return campaign.

While rovers and space agencies have collected rocks from the surface of our neighboring planet before, they have never drilled for a core of rock. This sample could show the geological changes that have occurred throughout the history of Mars and give us our best chance of discovering if life once existed on the Red Planet.

"NASA has a history of setting ambitious goals and then accomplishing them, reflecting our nation's commitment to discovery and innovation," NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a press release. "This is a momentous achievement and I can't wait to see the incredible discoveries produced by Perseverance and our team."

Newsweek looks back at the images that tell the story of how Perseverance reached this historic and important milestone for planetary science.

August 6: The First Drill Hole

My first drill hole on Mars! Collecting and storing rock samples is a big and complex task, and this is a huge step. Next step: processing. #SamplingMars

— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) August 6, 2021

After arriving on Mars on Febuary 18th, spending 169 days spent exploring the Martian surface and capturing some truly stunning images of the Martian landscape, the Perseverance rover was ready on August 6 to make its first drill hole and sample collection attempt.

More than 90 engineers and scientists had worked for a years preparing for this moment, the coring of Martian rock.

At 2 am PDT, the NASA team received word that the coring had been a success, and the corer achieved a 7cm (2.7 inch) hole in a Mars rock. Data transmitted from the rover also indicated that the sample tube had successfully been placed in storage.

Unfortunately, the initial elation that resulted from this achievement was followed by disappointment.

August 8: If at First, You Don't Succeed...

Update on my first sampling attempt: looks like the rock I drilled was too crumbly and broke into small fragments/powder, instead of producing an intact core. Pushing ahead to find my next target, expected to be more like rocks we cored on Earth.


— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) August 11, 2021

The team collected volume measurement data and a post-measurement image from the rover which revealed that the sample tube, despite being successfully stored, was empty.

A full two days of investigation followed this discovery, which led the scientists behind the Perseverance sample-collecting mission to conclude that it was the material qualities of the rock that was cored that led to the sample failing to be collected.

"A specific result is never guaranteed no matter how much you prepare. Despite this result, science and engineering have progressed," Louise Jandura, chief engineer for sampling and caching at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a blog post on August 11. "This bodes well for the pace of our remaining science campaign. We are looking forward to the next sampling attempt in South Seitah, anticipated in early September."

August 23: ...Try Again

After finding my way through a narrow gap, I’ve made it up on top of this ridge. We call this spot “Citadelle.” Nearby are lots of good rocks to choose from for my next attempt at #SamplingMars.

Interactive map:

— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) August 23, 2021

Moving on from its previous drill site, Perseverance heads to the South Seítah region of the Jezero Crater. Stopping to take these stunning images of the landscape. In view are several potential targets for further drilling.

Perseverance wasn't alone in surveying this area, however. Its efforts were bolstered by color images supplied by NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, surveying the region from the air.

August 26: Target Locked

The rocks on top of this ridge have been sitting here getting sandblasted by Mars winds for eons. This one looks like a good, solid target for my next drilling effort. Next step: abrade a small test patch. #SamplingMars

Read more:

— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) August 26, 2021

It might not look like much, but in these snaps, Perseverance captures a look at a rock that will go on to make history.

Located at the top of the ridge where the rover parked up, the Mars rock has sat for thousands of years being blasted by harsh Martian winds carrying sand and dust.

Yet, despite eons of being battered by the Red Planet's harsh weather conditions the rock looks like a prime target for drilling, and is strong and solid enough to ensure a successful sample is collected.

August 31: Drilling Begins Again

Next step: drilling. I’ve checked out my new target rock from all different angles, and I’m ready to try again for my first core sample. #SamplingMars

— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) August 31, 2021

Perseverance's drill starts to burrow into Martian rock. The drill is located at the end of an impressive 7 foot robot arm with shoulder, elbow, and wrist joints that allow it to move in a way similar to a human arm.

The drill is equipped with three interchangeable bits. This includes an abrader that scrapes off top rock layers to expose unweathered rock, allowing surface analysis, and coring and regolith bits that allow the drilling of rocks and the collection of rock cores.

September 7: History is Made

It’s official: I’ve now captured, sealed, and stored the first core sample ever drilled on another planet, in a quest to return samples to Earth. It’s the first in a one-of-a-kind Martian rock collection. #SamplingMars

Read more:

— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) September 6, 2021

NASA announced that the Perseverance rover had successfully captured, sealed, and stored the first core sample ever drilled from an alien world.

The next step for the sample will be collection and return to Earth via a joint NASA/European Space Agency sample return program. The core can then be analyzed here on Earth.

"For all of NASA science, this is truly a historic moment," Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement. "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.

"Using the most sophisticated science instruments on Earth, we expect jaw-dropping discoveries across a broad set of science areas, including an exploration into the question of whether life once existed on Mars."

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