For the first time ever, a sample of pulverized rock from another planet has been drilled, collected and stored for eventual delivery to the highest-tech labs on Earth.
Yes, a storehouse of rocks were collected on the moon by Apollo astronauts and delivered to Houston, and some small samples of two asteroids and one comet were snatched by three spacecraft (two Japanese and one American) and their contents were brought here for study.
But never before has the surface of another planet been the source of precious extraterrestrial material that some day, if all goes well, will be received on Earth for intensive analysis.
The feat was accomplished by the team that operates the Perseverance rover on Mars. After an unsuccessful effort to drill what turned out to be a very soft rock in August , the rover drill succeeded in digging into a briefcase-sized hard volcanic rock twice this month and pulling out samples to be tubed and stored for later pick-up by a different mission.
That next step isn’t scheduled for another half decade and the samples would not arrived on Earth until well after that. But a long-dreamed and highly-ambitious effort to bring some of Mars to Earth (called Mars Sample Return) has now formally begun.
“This is a truly historic achievement, the very first rock cores collected on another terrestrial planet — it’s amazing,” Meenakshi Wadhwa, Mars sample return principal scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said during a news conference held Friday
“In our science community, we’ve talked about Mars sample return for decades,” Wadhwa said. “And now it’s actually starting to feel real.”
The press conference was a victory lap of sorts for leaders of a team with many members who have worked eight to ten years for this moment. Lori Glaze, NASA’s director of the Planetary Science Division, also called it an historic achievement –the culmination of advances pioneered by many other NASA missions to Mars and elsewhere and a milestone for NASA’s Mars program.… Read more