There are at the moment numerous rovers, landers, and orbiters exploring Mars, gathering extra data than ever earlier than in regards to the planet’s atmosphere and its historical past. However to know extra about this place and notably whether or not there was ever life there, we have to convey samples again from Mars to Earth for evaluation right here. That’s what NASA goals to do over the subsequent decade with its Mars Sample Return plan.
As a part of that plan, the Perseverance rover is gathering samples of rock and regolith because it explores the Jezero Crater. These samples are then sealed in tubes that are deposited on the martian floor, able to be collected and introduced again to Earth by a future mission.
Perseverance will quickly start stashing these tubes in a “pattern depot,” which is able to finally maintain 10 tubes deposited over round one month. The situation for the depot needed to be rigorously chosen so will probably be accessible by future missions, as the present plan is to have the samples retrieved both by rover or by helicopter.
Impressed by the success of the Mars helicopter Ingenuity, the concept is that a number of pattern restoration helicopters may ferry the samples between their present location and a retrieval lander. However this requires the depot to be in a flat space with none hazards like massive rocks with loads of protected for take-offs and landings.
Particular person tubes additionally must be rigorously positioned throughout the depot space. As every helicopter can solely decide up one tube at a time, the tubes can’t merely be left in a giant pile. As a substitute, every tube must be positioned in its personal location a number of meters huge, spaced in a zig-zag sample. The necessity for exact placement is why it can take Perseverance round one month to position all of the tubes.
Included within the present number of samples are numerous kinds of rocks from round Jezero, in addition to samples of the dusty Mars soil known as regolith. There’s additionally a management tube known as a witness tube, which doesn’t comprise any rock however does comprise a pattern of the ambiance to verify for any contaminants.
“The samples for this depot – and the duplicates held aboard Perseverance – are an unimaginable set consultant of the world explored in the course of the prime mission,” stated Meenakshi Wadhwa, the Mars Pattern Return program principal scientist from Arizona State College, in a statement. “We not solely have igneous and sedimentary rocks that document no less than two and probably 4 or much more distinct kinds of aqueous alteration, but additionally regolith, ambiance, and a witness tube.”