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After collecting a dozen pinkie-size rock samples over its 18 months on Mars, the Perseverance rover has a message for planetary scientists: Your order is ready for pickup.

Next week, at a Mars community workshop, mission managers will reveal a plan to deposit 10 or 11 of the titanium sample tubes on the floor of Jezero crater, which held a lake billions of years ago. If NASA officials endorse the plan, the rover could begin to drop the samples as soon as November, assembling a cache that will play a key role in an ambitious plan to retrieve the first rocks from another planet. The Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission would use a small rocket to ferry rocks to an orbiting spacecraft that would deliver them to a special facility on Earth by 2033. There, laboratory researchers could follow up on the rover’s tantalizing finding that many samples contain organic molecules—the building blocks of life—and learn whether they were made by living things.

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