NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover drops the first sample onto the surface of Mars
Santa came to Mars early this year.
that of NASA Mission persistence dropped his first cache of precious rock samples on the sands of Marsleaving a record of material that a future mission could return to Soil. It is a key moment in the search for life on MarsNASA officials said in a statement on Wednesday (Dec. 21).
The rover’s contribution to the search for “ancient microbial life” in an ancient river delta, as NASA’s Jet Propulsion said at an update (opens in new tab)contains 10 titanium tubes deposited at this location, nicknamed “Three Forks.”
Sometime in the 2030s, if the schedules are right, Perseverance or two helicopters (similar to the currently flying Ingenuity Mars helicopter which completed its 37th flight days ago) will take rocky tubes like this one in Jezero Crater to a waiting ship.
However, this tube is a reserve depot; Perseverance collects twin monsters at each location, and its mission requires it to make the delivery itself, using the set of caches in the rover. But if necessary, the helicopters can be called in to retrieve the backup tubes left on the surface of Mars.
However the tubes are delivered, a spacecraft will launch them into space and hand over the samples to a waiting orbiter to return the Mars samples to Earth. Apart from a few meteorites carved from Mars that fell to our planet, the historic mission will mark the first time rocks from the Red Planet have reached Earth.
One of the most important ingredients of life is abundant on Mars, at least in ancient times: water. Massive canyons, huge icebergs and potential underwater reservoirs suggest that Mars was rich in water in the distant past, despite the dried up and dusty appearance of the planet today.
But whether there was enough to sustain life requires “ground truth,” and that’s where perseverance comes in. However, a rover can only carry a limited number of instruments; Sending the samples back to Earth will give entire laboratories a chance to evaluate the Mars bits for signatures of ancient life.
The first sample to hit the regolith is about the size of a piece of chalk, collected from an igneous rock nicknamed “Malay” on Jan. 31 in a region called “South Séítah.” South Séitah itself is important; scientists announced weeks before taking the sample they had found organic mattera possible ingredient of life, in the same area.
The car-sized Perseverance took about an hour to spit the tube out of its belly, where the sampling and caching system resides. The tube fell 89 centimeters to a flat spot on the Martian surface as planned, and engineers on Earth imaged the area to make sure they don’t accidentally drive over it as Perseverance drives off.
The photos came back showing the tube was well out of the way and flat, but NASA did have a contingency plan in place in case the tube ended up upright in the sand. “The mission wrote a series of commands for Perseverance to gently knock over the tube containing part of the tower on the end of its robotic arm,” agency officials wrote.
Engineers tested the tube-flattening procedure with a Perseverance-like rover in the “Mars yard,” a modified sandbox at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, where machines are tested in conditions similar to the Red Planet. Standing deposits occurred about five percent of the time in these simulations, which is why the mission is backed up.
The milestone drop occurs just weeks before the end of Perseverance’s main mission on January 6, 2023; the mission will impact two Earth years on the surface of Mars on Feb. 18. The rover will continue to roam through a mission expansion, based on its scientific publications and contributions such as these to the sample return.
“It’s a nice alignment that just as we begin our cache, we’re also closing this first chapter of the mission,” Rick Welch, Perseverance deputy project manager at JPL, said in the same statement.
Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of “Why am I taller (opens in new tab)(ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a space medicine book. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace (opens in new tab). follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or Facebook (opens in new tab).
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