After an unsuccessful attempt at collecting rock samples on Mars, NASA’s Perseverance rover has created a history. The US space agency has confirmed that the car-sized Perseverance rover has successfully a pencil-width core of rust-colored rock. The sample is sealed in an ultraclean airtight sample tube inside the rover. This is a major milestone in a decade-long mission. The rover, which is affectionately known as ‘Percy’, managed to do this on the 190th day of its mission. This is a major victory for researchers and scientists working behind the multibillion-dollar effort and trying to find whether there was a life on the red planet. Perseverance rover had failed to complete the task during its first attempt last month. The rover tried to collect the sample but the rock on the crater floor was not hard enough and crumbled to pieces. But this time the robotic geologist tried a different spot where it could find a more durable rock. It managed to collect a sample from a briefcase-sized rock known as ‘Rochett.’ The space agency had said on September 1 that the data shared by the Mars rover indicate it had collected a sample from a boulder along a nearly half-mile-long ridge. But the team of diligent scientists wanted to be extra certain. For this, the rover was required to take a few photographs of the rock sample it had drilled from one of its cameras.
The images beamed back to Earth have confirmed that the rover managed to successfully collect a rock sample last week. However, the second round of images was taken after the drill exercise. The light conditions were not good and therefore it was difficult to confirm what was in the tube. After taking initial images, the rover vibrated the drill bit and tube to get rid of any residual material. The five one-second bursts could have caused the sample to slide down further inside the tube, making it difficult to see the sample. But now with the images clicked in better lighting, it is has been ascertained that the rover collected the sample. The rover spent two days taking pictures in a better lighting condition before moving to the next step. Now the sample is being processed by the rover and will be sealed in the sample tube. This is one of more than 30 samples that are set to be sent back to earth by future missions in early 2030. These samples can throw more light on whether microbial life ever existed on Mars. “This is truly a historic moment for all of NASA science,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of science at the US space agency.
The early images show rust-red sediment. According to Steven Ruff, a planetary geologist, this could be a sign that the sample is rich in iron minerals. The site in Jezero Crater where the rover landed once had a great body of water. The attempts to samples have already revealed some of the geological histories of the red planet. Collecting the Martian rock core is just the first step. In other words, it is just like placing a letter in an envelope. The next step is to send that envelope to the earth for further studies. There are 43 such envelopes or airtight titanium tubes onboard the rover to collect samples. The rover is fitted with a rotary percussive drill and hollow coring bit for collecting samples. The sampling system has been strategically set on the end of Percy’s 2-meter-long robotic arm. Meanwhile, the Ingenuity helicopter is also busy and acting as an aerial scout for Perseverance’s future adventures. It recently completed the 13th flight on the red planet. The little chopper took a large number of photos while flying at a slightly slower speed of 7.3 miles per hour.