Perseverance has Collected its First Sample of Mars and Prepared it for Return to Earth… Eventually

It’s another first for NASA.

In early September, the Perseverance rover successfully used its robotic arm and drill to drill into a rock and extract a sample. It extracted a rock core about 6 cm (2 in) long and placed it inside a sealed tube. This is the first time a robotic spacecraft has collected a sample from another planet destined for a return to Earth on a separate spacecraft.

Now we wait for the eventual return of the sample to Earth.

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Here’s Perseverance, Seen From Space

The Mars Perseverance rover is on the move! The HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spotted the rover from above, the first view since shortly after the rover landed in February 2021. Perseverance appears as the white speck in the center of the image above, in the the “South Séítah” area of Mars’ Jezero Crater.

The HiRISE team said the rover is about 700 meters (2,300 feet) from its original landing site.

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Perseverance has Already Detected Over 300 Dust Devils and Vortices on Mars

Dust devils are generally used as a trope in media when the writers want to know that an area is deserted. They signify the desolation and isolation that those places represent. Almost none of the settings of those stories are close to the isolation of Perseverance, the Mars rover that landed on the planet earlier this year.  Fittingly, the number of dust devils Perseverance has detected is also extremely high – over 300 in its first three months on the planet. 

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Thanks to Ingenuity’s Pictures, Perseverance Knows Where to Drive to Next

The Perseverance rover now has a new tool to help scientists and engineers figure out where the rover goes next. The new tool is the little rotorcraft that was tucked away in the rover’s belly, the Ingenuity helicopter. Ingenuity has now started doing aerial surveys to scout ahead for Perseverance.

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After Its Last Rock Sample Crumbled Into Powder, Perseverance is Going to try Again

In the last two decades, we have all grown accustomed to rovers exploring Mars. At least one rover has been active on the planet every day since January 4, 2004, when NASA’s Spirit rover landed in Gusev crater. Opportunity (2004) and Curiosity (2012) followed, each making unique journeys of discovery of their own. Perseverance (2021) is the latest and greatest of these robotic explorers, boasting a state-of-the-art in-situ resource utilization experiment to extract oxygen from the atmosphere, an accompanying helicopter to scout the path ahead, and a suite of unparalleled geology instruments. But what really sets Perseverance’s mission apart is that, for the first time, it is collecting samples of Martian rock to bring back to Earth.

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Perseverance Fails to Collect its First Sample

Over the past few weeks, there was quite a bit of excitement in the air at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, where mission controllers were prepping the Perseverance rover to acquire its first sample from the Martian surface. This mission milestone would be the culmination of years of hard work by a team of over 90 dedicated scientists and engineers.

The commands to commence operations to take its first sample (from drill site Roubion) were sent to the rover on Sol 164 (Thurs, Aug. 5th). On the morning of Friday, Aug. 6th, the team gathered to witness the sampling data come in. Everything appeared to be fine until they were notified a few hours later that the sample tube was empty! Since then, the rover’s science and engineering teams have been investigating what could have become of the sample.

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Perseverance is About to Collect the First Sample on Mars That Could Eventually be Returned to Earth

On Feb. 18th, 2021, NASA’s Perseverance rover landed within the Jezero Crater on Mars. Like its predecessor, Curiosity, a fellow member of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program (MEP), the goal of Perseverance is to seek out evidence of possible life on Mars (past and present). A key part of this mission will be the first sample return ever performed on Mars, where samples obtained by Perseverance will be placed in a cache for later retrieval and return to Earth.

For the past five months, mission controllers at NASA have been driving the rover further from where it landed (Octavia E. Butler Landing Site) and conducting test flights with the Ingenuity helicopter. NASA is now in the midst of making final preparations for Perseverance to collect its first sample of Martian rock. This historic first is expected to begin by the end of the month or by early August and will culminate with the return of the samples to Earth by 2031.

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Ingenuity’s 6th Flight Didn’t Go So Smoothly

When NASA’s Perseverance rover landed in the Jezero crater on February 18th, 2021, it brought with it an interesting little companion that’s been causing quite a stir of late! We are talking, of course, about the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, an experimental flight system designed to demonstrate if aerial systems can work on Mars. Since its inaugural flight on April 19th, the helicopter has been pushing the boundaries of flight on Mars, going farther and faster each time.

In fact, the helicopter managed to establish multiple records in the course of its first five flights, reaching a maximum distance of 266 m (873 ft) in 117 seconds. Unfortunately, things did not go so well for Ingenuity during its sixth and latest flight. Due to a navigation timing error, the helicopter strayed from its flight path, but managed to land safely just a few meters from where it was supposed to.

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