The Perseverance Mars rover is preparing to collect its first rock sample from the site of an ancient lake bed, as its mission to search for signs of past life begins in earnest, NASA said.
The milestone is expected to take place within two weeks in a scientifically interesting region of the Jezero Crater called the “Cratered Floor Fractured Rough.”
“When Neil Armstrong took the first sample from the Sea of Tranquility 52 years ago, he began a process that would rewrite what humanity knew about the Moon,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters.
“I have every expectation that Perseverance´s first sample from Jezero Crater, and those that come after, will do the same for Mars.”
Perseverance landed on the Red Planet on February 18, and over the summer moved about a kilometre to the south of its landing site, project scientist Ken Farley told reporters.
“Now we´re looking at environments that are much further in the past billions of years in the past,” he said in a briefing.
The team believes the crater was once home to an ancient lake that filled and drew down multiple times, potentially creating the conditions necessary for life.
Analyzing samples will reveal clues about the rocks chemical and mineral composition revealing things like whether they were formed by volcanoes or are sedimentary in origin.
In addition to filling gaps in scientists geologic understanding of the region, the rover will also scour for possible signs of ancient microbes.