Perseverance collects first Mars samples

WASHINGTON — NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover has collected and saved the primary samples of Martian rock for later return to Earth, however precisely when these samples will arrive on Earth stays unsure.

At a Sept. 10 information briefing, NASA officers and undertaking scientists hailed the gathering of two samples from a rock dubbed “Rochette” as a significant step ahead within the long-term Mars pattern return effort that may conclude no sooner than a decade from now with these samples returned to Earth.

“These now signify the start of Mars pattern return,” stated Meenakshi Wadhwa, an Arizona State College planetary scientist who serves as Mars pattern return principal scientist for NASA.

The profitable collections of the primary two samples got here a month after the rover tried and failed to gather a pattern from one other rock, referred to as Roubion. Scientists concluded that the issue was not with the sampling system however as an alternative with the rock itself: it was weaker than anticipated and crumbled in the course of the sampling course of.

The 2 volcanic rocks are related, however possible have been uncovered to completely different quantities of water, stated Yulia Goreva, Perseverance return pattern investigation scientist at JPL. Roubion skilled way more alteration within the type of salts created by the publicity to water.

“If these rocks skilled water for lengthy intervals of time, there could also be liveable niches in these rocks that might have supported historical microbial life,” stated Katie Stack Morgan, Perseverance deputy undertaking scientist at JPL. The undertaking thus determined to gather two samples of Rochette, with plans to later retailer them in separate pattern caches to extend the chance at the very least one makes it again to Earth.

Perseverance will acquire about three dozen samples throughout its mission. Scientists stated on the briefing they have been planning their subsequent pattern assortment efforts and left open the opportunity of making one other try to gather samples from Roubion.

Two future missions will retrieve these samples and produce them again to Earth. A lander mission, led by NASA and together with a European Area Company rover, will choose up the samples, load them right into a container and launch them into orbit round Mars. An ESA-led orbiter, with a NASA-provided assortment system, will seize the samples and return them to Earth.

These later missions will launch no sooner than 2026, though they’re nonetheless in what NASA calls Part A, targeted on preliminary research. “As a part of Part A, we’re exploring a bunch of various trades and making an attempt to greatest perceive how we will execute this mission,” stated Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s planetary science division. “We’re the place we needs to be proper now.”

She didn’t elaborate on what trades have been being studied or when that may be full. An impartial evaluation final yr really useful NASA take into account a number of adjustments, starting from pushing the launch of the missions to 2028 to contemplating splitting the pattern return lander into two spacecraft and utilizing nuclear, somewhat than photo voltaic, energy for it. There’s rising skepticism within the planetary science group that the 2 Mars pattern return missions could possibly be able to launch in 2026.

Funding, she added, just isn’t a problem. “We’re extraordinarily happy with the finances request that the president put ahead for fiscal yr 2022 and past, and I feel we’re in a very good place proper at this second with the funding that we have now,” she stated. That finances proposal included $653 million for Mars pattern return in 2022 and projected spending $3.5 billion from 2022 via 2026.

Within the meantime, Perseverance will proceed to gather samples for eventual return to Earth. “In our science group, we’ve talked about Mars pattern return for many years,” stated Wadhwa. “Now it’s truly beginning to really feel actual.”

Recommended For You

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.