NASA's Perseverance rover drops first sample on Mars, to return it to Earth one day

"Seeing our first sample on the ground is a great capstone to our prime mission period, which ends on Jan. 6."
Deena Theresa
NASA’s Perseverance rover deposited the first of several samples onto the Martian surface on Dec. 21, 2022, the 653rd Martian day, or sol, of the mission.
NASA’s Perseverance rover deposited the first of several samples onto the Martian surface on Dec. 21, 2022, the 653rd Martian day, or sol, of the mission.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS 

NASA'S Perseverance Mars rover has dropped its first rock sample on the Red Planet's surface.

A titanium tube containing a rock sample on December 21 that was deposited on the surface of Mars is likely to be the first sample that could return to Earth. The event marks a "historic" step in the Mars Sample Return campaign.

The first sample comprised a chalk-size core of igneous rock called "Malay". This sample was collected on January 31, 2022, from a region in the Jezero Crater called "South Seitah".

Currently, Perseverance has 17 other samples in its belly. The rover's Sampling and Caching System took nearly an hour to retrieve the metal tube from inside the rover's belly, view it one last time using its internal CacheCam, and drop the sample three feet (89 centimeters) onto a selected patch of Martian surface, as per a release.

NASA's Perseverance rover drops first sample on Mars, to return it to Earth one day
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Ensuring that Percy did its job well

That wasn't just it.

Once the tube was dropped, the team had to position the WATSON camera located at the end of Perseverance's robotic arm to confirm that the tube hadn't accidentally rolled into the path of the rover's wheels.

The scientists also wanted to make certain that the tube didn't land in a way that it was standing on its end. However, if it ever happened, the mission has a set of commands for Perseverance to knock the tube over.

Sample Recovery Helicopters ready as stand by

Since the rover landed last year in February, it has been collecting dust and rock samples. As per the architecture of the Mars Sample Return campaign, the rover would deliver samples to a future robotic lander. Next, the lander would use a robotic arm to keep the samples in a containment capsule aboard a rocket that would blast off to Mars orbit. There, another spacecraft would capture the sample container and return it safely to Earth.

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If Perseverance is unable to deliver samples, the depot will serve as a backup, and a pair of Sample Recovery Helicopters will take over.

Closing the first part of the mission

In the coming weeks, scientists will check if Percy needs to use the same technique, as it deposits more samples at the Three Forks cache.

"Seeing our first sample on the ground is a great capstone to our prime mission period, which ends on January 6," Rick Welch, Perseverance’s deputy project manager at JPL, said in a statement. "It’s a nice alignment that, just as we’re starting our cache, we’re also closing this first chapter of the mission."