The Mars rover Perseverance drilled this rock sample on the Red Planet on Monday -- the first rock sample ever taken on another planet, for a planned return to Earth on future missions. Photo courtesy of NASA | License Photo
Sept. 8 (UPI) -- NASA's Mars rover Perseverance has drilled and encapsulated the first rock sample ever taken on another planet, while the accompanying helicopter Ingenuity has completed its 13th flight.
The mission reached both milestones over the Labor Day Weekend -- the flight was completed Saturday and the drilling Monday.
The rock sample was imaged by the rover's instruments and stored in an airtight titanium tube deposited in a storage chamber.
NASA plans to take up to 40 rock samples and deposit them in batches on the surface, where future missions are planned to retrieve them, launch them into space and return them to Earth.
"For all of NASA science, this is truly a historic moment," Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science, said in a news release. "We expect jaw-dropping discoveries across a broad set of science areas, including exploration into the question of whether life once existed on Mars."
The rover took the sample, slightly thicker than a pencil, from a ridge in Jezero Crater that may contain the oldest rocks in the area. That sample could help scientists understand the history of the crater, which NASA has determined was an ancient lake.
A previous attempt to drill and collect a sample failed Aug. 6 because the rock was brittle and disintegrated, NASA said.
"With over 3,000 parts, the Sampling and Caching System is the most complex mechanism ever sent into space," Larry D. James, interim director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, said in a news release.
Meanwhile, the helicopter, Ingenuity, has helped NASA plan the rover's next pathway through the crater.
Flying ahead of Perseverance, the helicopter has taken detailed photos of ridges and sand dunes to identify hazards and science targets. The rover is not capable of navigating large sand dunes.
Ingenuity's 13th flight was about 690 feet, lasting a little over 2 1/2 minutes. Cameras on the 4-pound helicopter took images of a ridge scientists are interested in as the rover's next target.
Ingenuity's cameras, while not very large, provide better resolution than those from NASA's spacecraft that orbit Mars, Teddy Tzanetos, operations lead for Ingenuity, said in an interview.
"The purpose of the flight was to gather as much information as we could for scientific goals, and for the rover drivers, giving them much more detailed insight in terms of what could be hazardous and nonhazardous," Tzanetos said.
While NASA has received some data and imagery from Flight 13, it still awaits the most valuable results -- color images, he said.
What those color images reveal about the terrain will help NASA plan the next flight for the helicopter, which remains in good health, he said.
NASA's Perseverance Mars rover, using its Mastcam-Z camera system, captured this view of the Martian sunset on November 9, 2021, the 257th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Martian sunsets typically stand out for their distinctive blue color as fine dust in the atmosphere permits blue light to penetrate the atmosphere more efficiently than colors with longer wavelengths. But this sunset looks different: Less dust in the atmosphere resulted in a more muted color than average. The color has been calibrated and white-balanced to remove camera artifacts. Photo courtesy of NASA | License Photo