Five months later, The NASA is preparing to collect its first baseline sample next month, mission officials said on Wednesday. It will pierce a lipstick-sized piece of rock out of the ground of an ancient lake bed where the remains of past microbial life could be preserved.
“When Neil Armstrong took the first sample of Sea of Tranquility 52 years ago, he initiated a process that would rewrite what humanity knew about the Moon,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, scientific director at the headquarters of the NASA, in a statement.
“I expect the first sample of Perseverance from Jezero Crater, and those to follow, will do the same for Mars. We are on the threshold of a new era of science and planetary discovery.”
The nuclear-powered rover is expected to collect dozens of samples during its mission to help scientists characterize thewhere a 28-mile-wide lake once rose and fell and where the remains of ancient organisms could have settled and been preserved.
“Maybe like many of you, we’ve actually been on a road trip,” Jennifer Trosper, Perseverance project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told reporters on Wednesday. “This road trip is associated with our very first scientific campaign and during it we will be taking our very first sample from the surface of Mars.”
Sinceon the On February 18, just beyond the delta, Perseverance traveled south of its landing point, skirting sand dunes that could cause trouble and devils of dust and gusts of wind along the way.
“We are photo-bombed by dust devils,” said project scientist Ken Farley. “We also acquired footage (showing) a gust of wind sweeping across the landscape, picking up dust and blowing it away. It’s a very visceral type of picture, which feels very earthy.”
However, the nature of the crater floor below the six wheels of Perseverance is more intriguing to the science team. Although it is presumably made up of layered sedimentary rocks, as one would expect to accumulate at the bottom of a lake, at least some areas may be of volcanic origin.
Volcanic rocks can be dated precisely, Farley said, and if such rocks are confirmed, a sample returned to Earth could help researchers pinpoint the history of Jezero Crater.
But there is no doubt that the crater was once filled with water that flowed through canyon-like cracks in the rim and then expanded, depositing sediment that built up a clearly defined delta formation.
“Probably the most surprising thing we’ve seen so far is when we look at the images of the delta… we see clear evidence that there was indeed a lake, there was a period when the water level was was pretty high, ”Farley said. .
“But we also see higher, and this you can only see from the ground, you cannot see it from orbit, higher and therefore younger, there was a period of drop in lake level and flooding, which could have been flash floods, moving large boulders to the top of the delta. “
He said this suggests “several phases in which this lake was active. So it is a particularly interesting aspect of this environment, as it could record several events that were not at all evident before our arrival.”
These episodes of ebb and flow signify “several periods during which we might be able tothat could have existed on the planet, ”he said.
The rover, equipped with a robotic arm, core drill and a suite of sophisticated cameras, rock-spray lasers and other instruments, now sits in a rocky area, or “unit,” known as name of “rough fractured crater bottom” which seems appropriate for sample collection.
Along the way, engineers tested a device designed to extract oxygen from the thin atmosphere, mostly carbon dioxide. In three trials to date, Trosper said, the device has extracted about six grams of pure oxygen, proving the concept works.
Another team continued to pilot the smalltransported to Mars aboard Perseverance. The robotic drone recently completed its ninth test flight, soaring over 2,000 feet across the threatening dunes – its longest flight to date.
His next flight, July 24 or shortly thereafter, will take him to another potential sample collection area where he will await Perseverance.
Collecting the first sample will be an important milestone for the project, proving that the rover’s extraordinarily complex sample collection mechanism will work as intended.
Once a suitable rock has been selected and the drill has collected a core, the material will be deposited into an internal carousel mechanism. The sample will be photographed stand-alone, analyzed and sealed in airtight lipstick-sized tubes that will eventually be placed or cached on the surface.
Bring the samples back to Earth
NASA and the European Space Agency plan to send another rover to Jezero later this decade to collect the samples, load them into a small rocket and detonate them in Martian orbit. From there, another spacecraft will capture them and bring them back to Earth for laboratory analysis.
Perseverance is equipped with 43 sample tubes, including five so-called “control” tubes which will be used to document any ground contamination that may be present in the returned samples. One of these witness tubes was recently processed inside the rover to test a complex mechanism.
“The good news is everything worked out perfectly,” Trosper said. “And so we’re ready to sample. I’m very excited to get our first sample on Mars. I think the team did a tremendous job. I joked that it was. It was a road trip and a summer vacation, they worked very, very hard, it wasn’t really a vacation for them.
“But they did the job, we are ready to go and we plan to get that first sample in the first weeks of August.”