In a remarkable feat, NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover has accomplished what the space agency has dubbed as “the first interplanetary depositary made by humans”. Within just six weeks, 10 titanium tubes filled with collected rock and dust specimens from Mars were placed in a designated spot on the planet. These samples may have the potential to be retrieved by a future NASA mission and brought back to Earth for further analysis. The depositary is not a physical structure, but rather a designated area chosen by NASA to preserve the samples.
With precision, Perseverance deposited the first 18.6 cm long titanium tube at the depositary in December, followed by nine more tubes, with the final one placed in recent times. The specific location of each tube has been meticulously recorded to prevent any potential concealment by Martian dust. The rover collected two sets of samples from each site, with one set stored at the depositary and the other remaining onboard.
The Mars Sample Return mission, scheduled for early 2030s, aims to retrieve the samples via a robot, transfer them to a capsule, launch it on a rocket, and send it back to Earth. In the event of any difficulty in collecting the samples from Perseverance, efforts will be made to obtain the samples from the depositary.
The Perseverance rover has used its internal tools to extract samples from areas of scientific significance, determined by the team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) managing the current Mars mission.
According to the mission team, the rock cores collected from the igneous and sedimentary layers are considered a valuable representation of the geological events that occurred in Jezero crater shortly after its creation approximately four billion years ago. Although the deposit has been completed, Perseverance’s mission is ongoing as it moves towards a higher area of the crater to investigate rocks that were transported into the crater in the past and originate from beyond its reach.