WATSON Documents First Sample on the Martian Surface
NASA's Perseverance rover deposited the first of several sample tubes onto the Martian surface on Dec. 21, 2022, the 653rd Martian day, or sol, of the mission. This composite image of the tube, filled with a sample of igneous rock, is made up of a series of stitched-together images taken by a camera called WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering) on the end of the rover's 7-foot-long (2-meter-long) robotic arm.
Perseverance has been taking duplicate samples from each rock target the mission selects. After having dropped its first sample on the surface, the rover now has 17 samples in its belly, including one atmospheric sample. Based on the architecture of the Mars Sample Return campaign, the rover would deliver samples to a robotic lander carrying a small rocket that would blast them off to space.
The depot will serve as a backup if Perseverance can't deliver its samples. In that case, a pair of Sample Recovery Helicopters would be called upon to pick up the sample tubes and deliver them to the lander.
A key objective for Perseverance's mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet's geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust).
Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.
The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA's Moon to Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is managed for the agency's by Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages operations of the Perseverance rover. WATSON and ACI were built by Malin Space Science Systems (MSSS) in San Diego and are operated jointly by MSSS and JPL.
For more about Perseverance: mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/