"Someone understood the assignment."
After almost two years of roaming the surface of the Red Planet, NASA's Mars Perseverance rover has officially dropped off the tenth and final Martian soil sample on the surface of the Red Planet.
That means there are ten samples ready for pickup on the surface, in addition to the ten twin samples stashed safely inside Perseverance itself.
The event sets the stage for the European Space Agency's Sample Return mission, which is scheduled to pick up where Perseverance left off roughly ten years from now.
"Someone understood the assignment," NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab tweeted. "Ten samples have been deposited on the Martian surface and could be returned to Earth for in-depth analysis in the future."
Perseverance stashed the twin samples just in case something were to go wrong with it before the return mission shows up.
That worry isn't exactly unwarranted. NASA's InSight lander had been dying a slow death due to a buildup of Martian dust blocking its solar arrays before being declared dead in December.
The samples on the surface right are designed to be picked up by two small helicopters that will launch from a future rover. This rover would land in the Jezero crater, the ancient dried-up lake bed that Perseverance has been calling its home since February 2021.
Signs of Life
The primary method of transferring samples, however, involves Perseverance itself, which has deposited ten identical tubes inside of its Sample Caching system to eventually hand them over to the ESA's Sample Return rover.
It's an exciting prospect: the igneous and sedimentary rock samples "provide an excellent cross-section of the geologic processes that took place in Jezero shortly after the crater’s formation almost four billion years ago," according to a JPL update.
If everything goes according to plan, by the next decade we could be examining the first Martian samples to have ever been returned to Earth, a tantalizing glimpse into the history of the Red Planet — and an unprecedented opportunity to probe the planet's ancient past for signs of life.
But a lot has to go right in the next ten years for that to happen, so it's not exactly surprising that NASA has a backup plan.
READ MORE: NASA’s Perseverance Rover Completes Mars Sample Depot [JPL]
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