Santa came early to Mars this year.
of NASA Endurance mission threw the first storehouse of valuable rock samples into the sands of marsleaving behind a record of material that a future mission might bring back Place. It is the main point in the search Life on MarsNASA officials said in a statement Wednesday (Dec. 21).
The rover’s contribution to the search for ‘ancient microbial life’ in an ancient river delta, as NASA says in Jet Propulsion in the update (opens in new tab)It will consist of 10 titanium tubes placed in this place, nicknamed “Three Forks”.
Sometime in the 2030s, if schedules continue, either Endurance or two helicopters (similar to the currently flying Ingenuity Mars helicopter It completed its 37th flight days ago) will send rocky pipes like this one to the waiting ship in the Jezero crater.
Related: The Perseverance Mars rover will begin caching samples for future return to Earth
However, this tube is a spare reservoir; Perseverance collects twin samples everywhere, and its mission requires it to make the delivery itself using a set of caches inside the rover. But if necessary, helicopters could be called in to pick up spare tubes left on the Martian surface.
Once the tubes are delivered, the spacecraft will launch them into space and deliver the samples into orbit, where they will be waiting to return Mars samples to Earth. Except for a few meteorites A historic transport carved from Mars and landing on our planet would represent the first arrival of Red Planet rocks to Earth.
One of the key ingredients for life appears to be abundant on Mars, or at least was in ancient times: Water. Giant canyons, giant icebergs, and potential underwater reservoirs all point to Mars is rich in water in the ancient past, despite the parched and dusty appearance of the planet today.
But whether there is enough to support life requires a “ground truth”, which is where Endurance comes in. However, a rover can only carry so many instruments with it; Sending samples back to Earth will give all labs a chance to examine Martian bits for signatures of ancient life.
The first sample to hit regolith is the size of a piece of chalk collected from an igneous rock nicknamed “Malay” in January. 31 in the region called “Southern Séitah”. South Séítah itself is significant; Scientists announced weeks before sampling found organic substancesa possible component of life, in the same field.
The car-sized Perseverance took about an hour to spit the tube out of its belly, which housed the sampling and caching system. The tube landed three feet (89 centimeters) on a flat spot on the Martian surface as planned, and engineers on Earth surveyed the area to make sure Perseverance didn’t accidentally slide over it as it moved away.
In photos: 12 amazing images from the Perseverance rover’s 1st year on Mars
The pictures came back and showed the pipe was out of the way and level, but NASA had a contingency plan in case the pipe ended up stuck in the sand. “The mission wrote a series of commands for Perseverance to carefully collapse the tube with a part of the turret at the end of the robotic arm,” agency officials wrote.
Engineers tested the tube-alignment procedure with a Perseverance-like rover inside a “Mars yard,” a sandbox adapted at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, where machines are tested in conditions similar to the Red Planet. Steep deposits occurred about five percent of the time in these simulations, so the mission has backup.
This phase drop comes just weeks before the end of Perseverance’s mission in January. 6, 2023; The mission will spend two Earth years on the surface of Mars in February. 18. The rover will continue its journey through mission extension based on contributions such as its scientific publications and sample returns.
“As we launch our cache, we close this first chapter of the mission,” Rick Welch, Perseverance’s deputy project manager at JPL, said in the same statement.
Elizabeth Howell co-authored “Why I am a workshop (opens in new tab)?” (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow him on Twitter @howellspace (opens in new tab). follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) gold Facebook (opens in new tab).
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