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NASA Perseverance rover ditched a piece of itself on Mars on purpose

Ejectable belly pan drop!

 NASA's Perseverance rover left this ejectable belly pan behind on Mars.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

Landing a mission on Mars leaves a mark. It's not just the remains of the landing equipment that gets left behind on the surface. NASA's Perseverance rover dropped a chunk of itself on the ground on Saturday, but it was all planned.

The rover arrived on Mars wearing a belly pan, a protective panel for its sampling system. Part of the rover's job will involve packing samples of Mars rocks and soils into small tubes for later retrieval by a future mission

NASA tweeted a GIF on Saturday showing the pan in place under the rover followed by the pan sitting on the ground. "Up next is to check my sampling system now that its cover panel is off," said NASA.

The rover used its robotic arm to get the underneath images. To give us a better idea of how the ejectable belly pan works, NASA also showed what the process looked like during a practice drop when the rover was still on Earth.

The sampling system is a new feature for a NASA rover. The machine will collect samples, seal them in tubes and leave them on the surface. The equipment -- including drilling gear and 43 sample containers -- is located under the belly of the rover.

Perseverance arrived on Mars in February. The belly pan drop was part of the post-landing plan. "This exposes the workspace to Martian atmosphere and makes more room for sample handling operations within that workspace," said NASA.

The belly pan will end up as one more artifact of human exploration on Mars. It's a good thing there are no tickets for littering on the red planet.

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