Even though there’s no firm date for a Mars sample return mission, the Perseverance rover is busy collecting rock samples and caching them for retrieval. We’ve known of the future Mars sample return mission for a while now, and as time goes on, we’re learning more details.
The latest development concerns helicopters. With Ingenuity’s success, NASA has decided that the sample return mission will take two helicopters.
A recent blog by Dr. Justin Maki, Imaging Scientist and the Deputy Principal Investigator on the Perseverance rover Mastcam-Z camera, provides a detailed account about the debris the entry, descent, and landing (EDL) system left scattered around the Martian surface while delivering the Perseverance rover to Jezero Crater. This blog highlights how much hardware goes into sending our brave, robotic explorers to the Red Planet while discussing the importance of imaging such debris.
Mars rovers are not known for being particularly speedy. Spirit and Opportunity managed a max speed of a whopping 5 cm per second, while Curiosity clocked in at a max speed of .1 kph. Over their long mission times, even those speeds opened up many potential areas to explore. But Perseverance is leaving them in the dust as it makes its way up to a river delta where it will begin its next round of sample collection.
Testing is key to the success of any space mission, and the more complex the mission, the more testing is required to complete it successfully. The Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission is one of the most ambitious missions ever undertaken. It started with the Perseverance rover, which is currently exploring Jezero crater while occasionally stopping to fill sample bottles with interesting material. But the more impressive engineering feat is what happens next. NASA plans to launch a combination lander, rover, and ascent rocket that will land on the Martian surface, pick up the sample containers Perseverance has left behind, sterilize them, launch them back into space, and then return them to Earth.
Nearly eight months into the Perseverance rover’s mission on Mars, researchers have confirmed that Jezero crater is (as was believed) an ancient lakebed, but more significantly, that it once experienced powerful flash floods that pushed boulders from tens of miles upstream into the crater basin.
When it landed on Mars in February of 2021, the Perseverance rover joined a small armada of robotic explorers working hard to characterize Mars’ environment and atmosphere and determine if it ever supported life. But unlike its predecessors, one of the key objectives of the rover is to obtain samples of Martian soil and rock, which it will leave in a cache for later retrieval by a joint NASA-ESA mission.
This will be the first sample return from Mars, and the analysis of these samples will provide new insight into the geological and environmental evolution of Mars. The first attempt to obtain a sample didn’t go so well, with the sample crumbling before it was placed in the cache. Undeterred, the science team moved onto the next site and prepared to try again. A few days ago, NASA confirmed that the rover succeeded in its second attempt and has the pictures to prove it!
Where’s Waldo (or Where’s Wally) is a very popular book series for all ages. One way to make it potentially more interesting is to adapt it to interplanetary exploration by searching for a Martian rover in a picture taken from a Martian helicopter. Ingenuity took a picture on its eleventh flight that would be a worthy addition to any interplanetary search game – in this image, the goal is to find Perseverance.
Having eyes in the sky is useful for a variety of activities. Everything from farming to military operations has benefited from the boom in drone usage, as the small aircraft track the progress of crop disease, enemy movements, or how awesome a professor skier looks going down a mountain. Now the benefits of aerial surveillance has spread to other worlds as Perseverance is starting to map out its path with help from Ingenuity.
Ever feel like no matter how far you fly you end up in the same spot? Ingenuity certainly does. The helicopter that has been making dozens of headlines lately for all of the firsts it is achieving as part of its mission on Mars so far has only returned back to its original take-off point. Named Wright Brothers Field, after the brothers who first brought controlled powered flight to Earth, it has been the site of all of Ingenuity’s firsts so far. But now the basic science of Ingenuity’s mission is over and it is time to start moving on, which it did last week to a new “air field”.
Ever since it landed in the Jezero Crater on Feb. 18th, 2021, the Perseverance rover has been prepping its scientific instruments to begin searching for signs of past life on the Red Planet. These include spectrometers that will scan Martian rocks for organics and minerals that form in the presence of water and a caching system that will store samples of Martian soil and rock for retrieval by a future mission.
These telltale indicators could be signs of past life, which would most likely take the form of fossilized microbes. In the near future, a similar instrument could be used to search for present-day extraterrestrial life. It’s known as the Wireline Analysis Tool for the Subsurface Observation of Northern ice sheets (WATSON), and could be used to find evidence of life inside “ocean worlds” like Europa, Enceladus, and Titan.