Perseverance deposits its first sample on Mars: Once the Perseverance team confirmed that the first sample tube was on the surface, they placed a WATSON camera located at the end of the rover’s robotic arm to peer below the rover, checking to make sure the tube didn’t roll into the rover’s path. Wheels. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. download image ›
Filled with rocks, the sample tube will be one of 10 that form a tube depot that could be considered for the journey to Earth with the Mars Sample Return Campaign.
A titanium tube containing a rock sample rests on the surface of the Red Planet after being placed there On December 21st by NASA’s Mars Orbiter. Over the next two months, the rover will deposit a total of 10 tubes at the site, called the “Three Forks,” to build the first human sample repository on another planet. The repository represents an historic early step in the campaign to return Mars samples.
Perseverance was sampling duplicates of rock targets chosen by the task. The rover currently has 17 other samples (including an atmospheric sample) taken so far in its belly. Based on the architecture of the Mars Sample Return Campaign, the rover will deliver samples to a robotic lander in the future. The probe, in turn, will use a robotic arm to put the samples into a containment capsule aboard a small rocket that will blast off into Mars orbit, where another spacecraft will pick up the sample container and return it safely to Earth.
The warehouse will act as a backup if Perseverance cannot deliver its samples. In this case, a pair of sample recovery helicopters will be called in to finish the job.
The first dropped sample was a chalk-sized core of igneous rock informally called “Malay,” which was collected on January 31, 2022, in the Jezero Crater region of Mars called “South Setah.” Perseverance’s complex sampling and spooling system took nearly an hour to retrieve the metal tube from inside the rover’s belly, view it one last time with its internal CacheCam, and drop the sample about 3 feet (89 centimeters) onto a carefully selected patch of the Martian surface.
But the job was not done for the engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, who built the Perseverance and led the mission. Once the tube was confirmed to have fallen, the team positioned a WATSON camera located at the end of Perseverance’s 7-foot (2-meter) robotic arm to peer below the rover, checking to make sure the tube was not. It rolled into the path of the rover’s wheels.
They also wanted to make sure the tube didn’t slump in such a way that it would stand on end (each tube had a flat end piece called a “glove” to make it easier to pick it up in the future). It happened less than 5% of the time during testing with the Perseverance Earthly twin at JPL’s Mars Yard. In the event that this happened on Mars, the mission wrote a series of commands to Persevere to carefully hit the tube with the part of the tower at the end of its robotic arm.
In the coming weeks, they’ll have more chances to see if Perseverance needs to use the technique as the rover deposits more samples into Three Forks’ cache.
“Seeing our first sample on Earth is an amazing culmination of our main mission period, which ends on January 6,” said Rick Welch, deputy project manager for Perseverance at JPL. “It’s a nice alignment, as we start our cache, we also close this first chapter of the quest.”
More about the mission
Astrobiology is one of the main goals of the Mars Perseverance mission, including searching for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and will be the first mission to collect and store Martian rocks and regolith (fractured rocks and dust).
Subsequent NASA missions, in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA), will send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.
The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s Lunar-to-Mars Exploration Approach, which includes the Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, operated by NASA’s Caltech in Pasadena, Calif., built and managed the rover’s operations.
Learn more about perseverance:
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