NASA’s Perseverance rover has completed construction of a rock repository on Mars.
There is laid a series of tubes on the ground containing a variety of rock and environmental specimens.
The deposit will serve as a reserve cache to bring back to Earth in case Perseverance is unable to complete the next stage of its mission.
Scientists want rock samples taken home to be studied in the lab. This will be the best way to determine if life ever existed on the Red Planet.
Photos uploaded from the robot on Monday showed the last of 10 titanium cylinders earmarked for the depot, lying in the dust between the wheels of the vehicle.
The exact position of the tube has been carefully documented.
Perseverance was sent to Mars to investigate a 45 km wide bowl called Jezero Crater.
It is a place that would have housed a lake billions of years ago.
It also presents on its western fringe the remains of a delta.
It is a structure created from the silt and sand dumped by a river as it slows down upon entering a larger body of water.
It’s the kind of feature that could have trapped evidence of past microbial organisms.
Perseverance drilled a mix of volcanic and sedimentary rocks that should tell the story of the crater and the lake it once housed. Examples of these rocks are now found in the deposit on flat ground called “Three Forks”.
To be clear, the collection is not the main cache NASA wants to return to Earth; it’s more of a “Plan B”.
Perseverance keeps copies of the Three Forks samples in the caching system inside its belly.
The hope is that the rover can directly deliver these rocks – and more to be drilled – to the mission that comes to bring them home.
But NASA can’t risk the scenario where the rover breaks down with all the rocks stuck inside.
The deposit is therefore an insurance. This ensures that something is available to scavenge when the scavenging mission comes to the end of the decade.
If the nightmare occurs and Perseverance dies, the recovery mission will be directed directly to Three Forks.
The rover is about to climb to the top of the delta, accompanied by its scout drone. This mini-helicopter, named Ingenuity, has already started the ascent.
Perseverance will investigate what appears to be evidence of flood activity, judging by the large size of some of the boulders scattered atop the delta.
The robot will then move to the rim of the crater where satellite imagery indicates that there are carbonate-like sedimentary rocks. These will again be a good place to look for traces of ancient biology.
Perseverance still has over 20 sample tubes waiting to be filled.