In the coming days, the rover NASA’s Perseverance will start doing something unique and never seen before on another world. In fact, he will be engaged in “building” the first deposit of samples on Mars. This will mark an important milestone in NASA-ESA’s Mars Sample Return campaign, ensuring greater knowledge of the planet.
The particular depot “building process” will begin when the rover will land on the Martian terrainprecisely in an area inside the crater Jezero nicknamed “Three Forks,” one of its titanium sampling tubes carrying a rock core, the size of a chalk.
Over the next 30 days (approximately), Perseverance will deposit a total of 10 tubes full of sampleswhich represent the various morphological diversity of rock in the Jezero crater, waiting to be sent back to Earth for a more in-depth study.
Dr. Meenakshi Wadhwa, one of the scientists leading Arizona State University’s Mars Sample Return program, explained: “The samples for this cache, along with the duplicates stored aboard Perseverance, are an incredible representative set of the area explored during the first mission”.
“We have not only igneous and sedimentary rocks, which record at least two, four or even more distinct styles of aqueous weathering, but also regolith and traces of atmosphere“Wadhwa added enthusiastically.
Dr. Richard Cook, Mars Sample Return program manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, further explained the specifics of creating the Martian repository: “First of all one must establish a suitable site for the purposeas flat as possible”.
“The next step will be understand exactly where and how to place the pipes within that given location. You can’t just drop them in a big pile, as recovery craft (helicopters) are designed to only interact with one of them at a time.”he added.
For this reason, Perseverance will deposit the pipes performing an articulated zigzag path on the surface (as you can see in the image at the end of the article), with each sample 5 to 15 meters away from each other. Of course, before and after each placement, mission experts will carefully review a multitude of images from the rover.
Speaking of the “red planet”, do you know how long it takes to get to Mars? Maybe, in the future, our descendants will be able to walk on its vast desert expanses and admire the famous Mars Dust Devils.
Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech