Nasa is set to return a piece of Martian meteorite onboard its Mars 2020 rover mission, which is currently under development at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, US.

The piece is a part of the Sayh al Uhaymir 008 (SaU008) meteorite, which landed on Earth after blasting off from Mars millions of years ago.

It was found in Oman in 1999 and is proved to be the only one of 200 similar rocks that is strong enough to survive the journey back to Mars.

“This is a first for us: sending one of our samples back home for the benefit of science.”

Nasa has worked with its Johnson Space Center in Houston, US, and the Natural History Museum of London, UK, to help select the SaU008 piece.

Natural History Museum meteorites principal curator Caroline Smith said: “Every year, we provide hundreds of meteorite specimens to scientists all over the world for study.

“This is a first for us: sending one of our samples back home for the benefit of science.”

On its way back home, the SaU008 piece will serve as target practice for a high-precision laser, Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC), on the rover’s arm.

SHERLOC is being developed to illuminate rock features as fine as a human hair using Raman and fluorescence spectroscopies, scientific techniques familiar to forensics experts.

It will be designed to photograph the rocks it studies and map the chemicals it detects across these images.

SHERLOC’s calibration target will comprise various scientific samples for future human spaceflight, including materials that could be used to make fabric, gloves and helmet visors for spacesuits.