NASA’s Perseverance rover has notched another milestone on Mars, drilling its first hole for sampling Red Planet rock.
The drill hole marks just one step of a sampling process that will take about 11 days all told, according to previous NASA statements, which should mean that if all goes well, the full procedure will wrap up just in time for the rover to celebrate six months since it landed on Mars, on Feb. 18.
“My first drill hole on Mars!” the mission’s Twitter account announced on Friday (Aug. 6) with an image of the hole. “Collecting and storing rock samples is a big and complex task, and this is a huge step. Next step: processing.”
Perseverance is designed to study the geology and look for traces of long-lost life on the Red Planet by exploring what scientists have dubbed Jezero Crater, which they believe was a lakebed billions of years ago.
Drilling on Mars isn’t new to Perseverance — the car-sized rover’s predecessor Curiosity has done the same task a couple dozen times in the course of its nine years on the Red Planet. However, Curiosity selected rocks to drill only for its own instruments to study. Perseverance, instead, will both analyze the samples and pack them away for a future mission to carry to Earth’s laboratories.
In the lead-up to drilling, the mission team announced that this rock sample may be the oldest Perseverance collects throughout the course of its work. Scientists are particularly excited for the new sample because they aren’t sure yet whether the rock is volcanic or formed by layers of lakebed deposits.
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