NASA’s Perseverance rover on Sept. 6 completed the collection of the first sample of Martian rock, a core from Jezero Crater slightly thicker than a pencil. At NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Southern California, mission controllers received data that confirmed the historic achievement. The core is enclosed in an airtight titanium sample tube, which can be retrieved in the future.
NASA and ESA plan many future missions to bring back the rover’s sample tubes to Earth for closer study through the Mars Sample Return campaign. These samples would be the 1st set of scientifically identified and selected materials brought back to Earth from another plane.
According to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, “NASA has a history of setting ambitious goals and then accomplishing them, reflecting our nation’s commitment to discovery and innovation. This is a momentous achievement and I can’t wait to see the incredible discoveries produced by Perseverance and our team.”
Perseverance’s mission is to identify and collect rock and regolith samples, search for signs of ancient, microscopic life, study the Jezero region to understand the geology and ancient habitability of the area, and o characterize the past climate. Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said it is historic for all of NASA science. The mission will try to find out whether life existed on Mars.
Perseverance mission –
- The mission was launched on Jul. 30 2020.
- Landing on Feb. 18 2021, Jezero Crater, Mars.
- The mission name is Mars 2020, and the rover name is Perseverance.
- This mission is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program.
- The objective of this mission is astrobiology. To find signs of ancient microbial life and signs of habitable conditions on Mars in the ancient past.
- The rover introduces a drill.
- The rover will find out past climate and Mars geology and will make way for human exploration.
- It will be the 1st mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith.
- Along with ESA, NASA will send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples and bring them to Earth for further analysis.
- This would help scientists to research the samples in the lab with special room-sized equipment.
- Opportunities to gather knowledge and demonstrate technologies will be provided by this mission that will address the future challenges facing exploring Mars.
First sample –
- The sample-taking process began on Wednesday, Sept. 1. At the end of the rover’s robotic arm, the rotary percussive drill cored into Rochette (Mars rock).
- Perseverance Sampling and Caching System uses a rotary percussive drill and a hollow coring bit at the end of its 7-foot-long robotic arm to extract samples slightly thicker than a pencil.
- The arm manoeuvred the corer, bit, and sample tube after completing the core process so the rover’s Mastcam-Z camera instrument could image the contents of the still-unsealed tube and transmit the results back to Earth.
- The mission controllers sent a command to complete the processing of the sample after the cored rock’s presence in the tube was confirmed.
- On Sept. 6 at 12:34 a.m. EDT, sample tube serial number 266 was transferred by Perseverance. Even the Martain cargo was moved into the rover’s interior to measure and image the rock core. Then the container was sealed hermetically sealed; another image was taken and stored in the tube.
- The 1st images sent to Earth showed rock had been successfully snatched. A 2nd round of photos was taken after an operation to vibrate the drill bit.
- The lighting condition was too poor to confirm what was in the tube.
- Rust-red sediment was seen in the early images that could be iron-rich minerals.
- The landing site was once the home to a significant body of water.
- Both of the rock targets that Perseverance has interrogated look different than what was previously seen on Mars.
- Perseverance has 43 sampling tubes and can collect dozens of diverse rock samples. These will help the science team to compare rocks from across the Jezero crater and help to find out more details about Earth.
First science campaign –
- Perseverance is exploring the rocky outcrops and boulders of Artuby. Bordering two geologic units, it is a ridgeline of more than half-mile and is believed to contain Jezero Crater’s most ancient and profound layers of exposed bedrock.
- Getting the 1st sample is a massive achievement for NASA. The earliest chapters in the evolution of Mars can be found out when these samples come back to Earth. However, the contents of sample tube 266 won’t tell the complete story of this place. There is a lot of Jezero Crater left to explore, and NASA will continue to investigate.
- When Perseverance returns to its landing site, the rover’s initial science foray, which spans hundreds of sols, will be complete. The rover would have travelled between 1.6 and 3.1 miles at that point and have filled eight of its 43 sample tubes. Then it will travel to the north, then west, towards the location of its 2nd science campaign. The region is known as Jezero Crater’s delta region.
The major challenge –
- Across the surface of Mars, the rover intends to leave these titanium tubes letters scattered so that they can be collected by a mail carrier later. The mail carrier is yet to be built.
- NASA and ESA plan to send a Martian lander and sample collection rover to the surface of Mars in 2026.
- The rover will roll out, gather tubes and place them in its mailvan, a rocket bound for Earth.
- The rover’s mail sometime in early 2030 will finally reach its intended recipient if everything happens according to the plan.
Sample taking –
The sample taking is a massive undertaking and involves careful coordination across all instrument teams, scientists, and engineers; it’s an enormous team effort. Before Perseverance landed on Mars, the development of sampling strategy began. NASA is developing a sampling sol path that outlines the standardized sequence of events that NASA plans to carry out at each sampling location.
According to NASA, a Sol is a Martian day, so “sol path” refers to the rover’s activities throughout a few sols. It refers to in the sampling sol path all of the activities related to a sampling event. This process takes over a week to complete on Mars.
Following are the activities involved –
- Drive up to the intended sampling location.
- Scientific instruments and cameras perform reconnaissance observations.
- The upper centimetre of the rock surface is ground using a drill, creating an abrasion patch.
- Inside the abrasion, the patch analyzes the new rock with science instruments.
- For coring, select a nearby rock target.
- To extract a core sample from the rock, the drill is used.
- The core is then delivered to the rover’s belly, where it goes through hermetic sealing, imagining, a complex sequence of sample assessment, and storage.
- At the sampling location, wrap scientific observations.
The sampling sol path is all about efficiency. As per NASA, there are lots of activities involved with the sol path. This enables the scientists to acquire a standard and comparable set of scientific observations so that each sample collected can be appropriately documented.