NASA Perseverance rover poses in a full-body selfie on a brown, pebbly Mars landscape. Horizon line in the distance, wheel tracks on the ground, sample tubes on the surface, including one right in front of the car-sized wheeled robot.

NASA’s official version of the January 2023 Perseverance selfie shows the rover posing with sample tubes on the ground.

This story is part of Welcome to Mars, our series exploring the red planet.

It took less than six weeks for NASA’s Perseverance rover to create the first sample depot on another world. NASA JPL announced Saturday that the rover has successfully placed 10 tubes on the Martian ground in a specific pattern that would allow a future mission to come fetch them if needed.

Percy’s labors have been in service of a big idea: getting pieces of Mars back to Earth for close study by scientists. Researchers hope they might tell the story of whether the red planet was once home to microbial life. The sample depot is an important part of the upcoming Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission to bring Martian rocks to Earth in the 2030s.

Top-down view of Mars with ten sample depot sites labeled. The sites are arranged in a zig-zag pattern.Top-down view of Mars with ten sample depot sites labeled. The sites are arranged in a zig-zag pattern.Enlarge Image

The 10 samples have names. This map shows where each on is located in the sample depot on Mars.


NASA called the depot completion a major milestone that involved precision planning and navigation to make sure the tubes could be collected by two helicopters from the MSR mission. The rover has been gathering samples in pairs, so it could drop one on the ground and keep the other on board. NASA expects Percy will meet the MSR lander in person to deliver its samples, but if anything prevents that, then the helicopters and sample depot will be the fallback.

The tubes are mostly full of rock, but the rover also dropped a sample of the Martian atmosphere and a “witness” tube that could help scientists determine if there was any accidental contamination from Earth. Witness tubes go through the motions of sampling and sealing, but aren’t filled with rock or soil.

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The rock samples Percy has collected reflect the varied geology of the Jezero Crater and its history of water. The rover collected both igneous (volcanic) and sedimentary rock cores. 

The completion of the depot marks the end of a major task and the beginning of a new exploration as Perseverance heads up an ancient river delta. The rover has been in residence on Mars since early 2021. It’s already proven itself to be a powerhouse of science. Its rock samples might revolutionize our understanding of life in our solar system. Good work, Percy.

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