NASA’s Perseverance rover has dropped the last of 10 sample tubes onto the surface of Mars, completing “humanity’s first sample drop on another world”. The rover began dropping off titanium tubes containing rock and dust samples six weeks ago as part of the Mars Sample Return mission to collect Martian materials and deliver them to Earth for further study. thorough.
Perseverance landed on Mars in February 2021, landing inside a 28-mile-wide bowl known as Jezero Crater with a primary mission to search for signs of ancient microbial life and collect samples from the Martian environment. Scientists believe that billions of years ago Jezero Crater may have contained a river that flowed into a vast lake, which may have provided the environment necessary to support microbial life.
The rover is currently carrying 17 primary samples, which the space agency hopes can eventually be delivered to a sample return lander and returned to Earth. The newly completed sample repository—located in the Three Forks region of Jezero Crater—will serve as a backup cache in case Perseverance is unable to deliver its samples onboard. The location of each tube has been carefully mapped so that they can be found and retrieved by two Ingenuity-class helicopters, even if they are covered in dust.
While the table has been set at Three Forks, Perseverance is reportedly still in good shape and will now embark on an extended mission to explore nearby Delta Top territory. The Delta Top campaign is expected to last about eight months and will study rocks and sediments that appear to have been transported into Jezero Crater by an ancient river.
The main mission now focuses on the future recovery of Martian samples. Defense contractor Lockheed Martin was awarded the construction of the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) last year, which is to lift off from the Red Planet’s surface – making it the first rocket ever to launch from another planet if successful – and forward the collected samples to a spacecraft being built by the European Space Agency, which will then deliver the precious cargo into the hands of eager scientists back on Earth.
NASA currently estimates that the sample retrieval lander will land by 2028 at the earliest, and collected samples won’t arrive on Earth until at least 2033.
This is obviously much easier said than done. The Mars sample return mission represents over a decade of work and requires many incredibly complex steps to pull off, some of which have never been attempted before, such as landing a lift-capable rocket on Mars. again. If the teams behind the mission can pull off these Herculean efforts, however, we’ll be closer than ever to knowing if life existed beyond our Earth.