Perseverance Rover Drops First Sample Tube on Mars • The Register

A titanium tube that looks a bit like a steampunk telescope has been dropped from the bold Perseverance rover, which is filled with a Martian rock sample that NASA astrobiologists hope could reveal traces of ancient microbial life.

But before the hardest part – sending spacecraft from Earth to Mars to collect the sealed samples and returning them to Earth for analysis by 2033 – the team had to make sure the multi-billion dollar mission didn’t shoot itself in the foot by they crushed the samples tube under the rover’s wheels.

NASA said last night:

Not a bad idea.

Engineers working on the rover also wanted to make sure the sample wouldn’t land on its end with the tube perpendicular to the surface. The space agency’s Jet Propulsion Lab admitted this had happened just under 5 percent of the time when they tested launching Perseverance’s “Earthly Twin” at JPL’s Mars Yard, including a cute gif showing it.

Images of the current sample show it lying flat on the ground, but if a vertical drop occurs on a subsequent tube, JPL said it wrote a series of commands that instruct Perseverance to carefully use part of the tower with the tube knocking over the end of his robotic arm.

NASA's Perseverance rover deposits a sample tube on the ground.

Colder than it looks: NASA’s Perseverance rover places a sample tube in the shadow of the robotic vehicle

Over the next two months, the rover will deposit a total of 10 tubes at the site called “Three Forks,” humanity’s first off-planet sample depot.

However, the tubes are just backups. Persistence will also keep duplicate samples in his belly. The titanium tube samples that will be deposited on the surface are there in case the little rover misses its 2028 date with the future robotic lander. This lander’s job will be to take the samples and use its robotic arm to place them in a containment capsule aboard a small rocket that would then be lifted off into orbit around Mars. If Perseverance is unable to deliver its samples, a pair of sample recovery helicopters must collect the spare samples and then return to the lander to place them in the rocket-mounted pod.

Once the capsule is in orbit, another spacecraft is scheduled to capture the sample container and bring it safely back to Earth. The rock and gas samples are said to be returning to Earth sometime in the 2030s (more on that here).

The first sample to fall was a core of igneous rock about the size of a chalk stick. The team said it took Perseverance’s sampling and caching system nearly an hour to retrieve the metal tube from the rover’s belly, “look at it one last time with its internal CacheCam, and scan the sample about 3 feet (89 cm.) ) on a carefully chosen spot on the Martian surface.”

Among the samples that will eventually arrive on Earth will be exciting specimens “deposited under conditions where life might have thrived” that the rover picked up as it drove through an ancient wetland that formed when a Martian river dumping water and sediment into a lake.

The agency said at the time that the geological diversity of the samples already transported in the rover was good, and said the team expects to deploy some select tubes near the base of the delta in “about two months,” meaning that this is right on schedule. The rover will continue to explore after it has landed.

In addition to his role as a robotic astrobiologist, Perseverance’s mission is also to “characterize the planet’s geology and past climate and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet.” ® Perseverance Rover Drops First Sample Tube on Mars • The Register

Rick Schindler

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