In August, after approximately six months on Mars, NASA’s Perseverance rover drilled into a rock on the red planet’s Jezero Crater and tried to extract a sample. Unfortunately, the rock fell to pieces before the task was through. So the team made another attempt, targeting what they hoped would be a sturdier rock about the size of a briefcase and fondly christened “Rochette.”
The extraction process kicked off on September 1, once again using Perseverance’s roughly 3000-piece sampling and caching system, which NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory interim director Larry D. James called “the most complex mechanism ever sent into space.”
This time, it worked.
As NASA announced in a press release on September 6, Perseverance is now in possession of the first rock sample ever collected from Mars. The cylindrical core is “slightly thicker than a pencil,” according to NASA, and the system’s camera even snapped a photo of the top of it before sealing it inside an airtight titanium tube. For now, the sample will stay on Mars while Perseverance investigates the crater’s most intriguing areas, including the boulder-filled ridges of “Artuby,” near what scientists think is the Jezero Crater’s oldest bedrock; and the delta region, which used to be the rendezvous point between a river and a lake.
There are plans to collect further rock samples throughout the journey, as well as plans to transport them back to Earth (aptly named the Mars Sample Return program). If and when the cores arrive, NASA will examine them for signs of ancient life and details about the planet's climate history.
If you’re interested in hearing more about the sample collection process and what it means for the future of Mars exploration, you can tune into NASA’s media briefing on Friday, September 10, at 12 p.m. EST. It’ll be live-streamed on NASA TV, the NASA website, and the NASA app.