The bundle of instruments known as SuperCam on board the Perseverance Mars rover has collected its first samples in the hunt for past life on the Red Planet, mission scientists said Wednesday.
The return to Earth years from now of the rocks and soil it retrieves "will give scientists the Holy Grail of planetary exploration," Jean-Yves le Gall, president of France's National Centre for Space Studies (CNES), which mostly built the mobile observatory, commented via a YouTube broadcast.
These "pieces of Mars", he said, may "finally answer this fascinating and fundamental question: was there ever life elsewhere than Earth?"
After seven months in space, NASA's Perseverance rover gently set down on Martian soil last month and sent back black-and-white images revealing the rocky fields of Jezero Crater, just north of the Mars equator.
"The critical component of this astrobiology mission is SuperCam," said Thomas Zurbuchen, deputy head of NASA's Science Mission Directorate.