Five months after landing on Mars, NASA’s Perseverance rover is gearing up to collect its first core sample next month, mission managers said Wednesday. It will drill out a lipstick-size bit of rock from the floor of an ancient lakebed where the remnants of past microbial life might be preserved.

“When Neil Armstrong took the first sample from the Sea of Tranquility 52 years ago, he began a process that would rewrite what humanity knew about the Moon,” Thomas Zurbuchen, director of science at NASA Headquarters, said in a statement.

“I have every expectation that Perseverance’s first sample from Jezero Crater, and those that come after, will do the same for Mars. We are on the threshold of a new era of planetary science and discovery.”

The nuclear-powered

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