NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance will start taking rock samples from the bed of an ancient lake, the heart of its mission to the Red Planet, within two weeks, the US space agency said on Wednesday. .
“When Neil Armstrong took the first samples from the Sea of Tranquility 52 years ago, he began a process that would redefine what humanity knew about the Moon,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, administrator for science at The NASA.
“I expect no less for Mars with the first samples of Perseverance in the crater of Jezero, and the following ones,” he added.
The module, which is the size of a large SUV, landed on February 18 in the crater of Jezero, which scientists believe housed, 3.5 billion years ago, a deep lake, with the mission of looking for traces of ancient life.
It has since traveled a kilometer south of its landing site.
“We are now seeing a much older environment, billions of years ago,” the scientific manager of the project, Ken Farley, explained during a press briefing.
NASA’s rover searches for signs of germs
NASA believes the crater was home to a lake that filled and then emptied many times and that could have created the conditions for life.
The analysis of these samples must reveal the chemical and mineral composition of the rocks to know if they are volcanic or sedimentary.
The rover will also try to find possible signs of ancient germs.
To do this, Perseverance will first deploy its two-meter articulated arm and then use an abrasive tool to clean the surface of the rocks that will be analyzed by the instruments installed on its turret, in particular an ultra sophisticated camera called SuperCam, equipped with a laser.
Mr. Farley is particularly interested in a small hill which could have been formed by mud and which would be “a very good place” to find physical traces, although the robot would take several months to reach it.
Each rock hit by the NASA rover will have an equivalent “twin” which will be sealed and stored in the robot.
NASA is planning a return mission with the European Space Agency to collect and bring the samples back to Earth, around the 2030s.