New photos published by Nasa shows an object on the surface of Mars, resembling the iconic lightsaber star wars series. Despite its appearance, this mysterious item is actually a titanium tube containing a rock sample lying on the surface of the Red Planet. Last Wednesday, the United States space out The agency’s Perseverance Rover placed the tube there, ready to be brought back to Earth by a small spacecraft. NASA is now planning a future mission to retrieve the samples collected by the rover, bringing the first pieces of Mars back to Earth. This lightsaber-shaped sample tube is designed to form a “tube depot” that would be considered for return travel to Earth by the Mars Sample Return campaign.
The first tube to fall contained samples of a chalk-sized igneous rock core informally named “Malay”, which was collected on January 31, 2022, from a region of Mars’ Jezero crater called “South Séítah”. .
Over the next two months, Perseverance will deposit a total of ten tubes at this location, called “Three Forks”, marking a historic milestone as humanity builds its first sample repository on another planet.
However, the rover also collected duplicate samples from rock targets selected by the mission. It currently has 17 other samples (including an atmospheric sample) taken to date from its belly.
In a blog post, NASA noted that “based on the architecture of the Mars Sample Return campaign, the rover would deliver samples to a future robotic lander.”
This lander would in turn use a robotic arm to place the samples in a containment capsule aboard a small rocket that would blast off into Mars orbit, where another spacecraft would capture the sample container and return it safely. safety on Earth.
If Perseverance fails to deliver its samples, the repository will serve as a backup supply for the return campaign, at which time NASA will deploy a pair of sample recovery helicopters to complete the job.
In the coming weeks, scientists will have further opportunities to verify Perseverance’s progress in achieving more sample deposits at the Three Forks cache.
Rick Welch, Perseverance Assistant Project Manager at JPL, said, “Seeing our first sample in the field is a great capstone to our main mission period, which ends on January 6th. It’s a beautiful lineup that just as we begin our cache, we also close this first chapter of the mission.”
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A key focus of the NASA Perseverance mission to Mars is astrobiology, which includes searching for signs of ancient microbial life, including investigating areas where Mars flowed with rivers millions of years ago.
NASA said: “The rover will characterize the planet’s past geology and climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith ( broken rock and dust).
“Following NASA missions, in cooperation with the ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for further analysis.
The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.
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Perseverance’s complex sampling and caching system took nearly an hour to retrieve the lightsaber-like metal tube from inside the rover’s belly, view it one last time with its internal CacheCam, and deposit the sample about 3 feet (89 centimeters) on a carefully selected patch of Martian surface.
However, after dropping the tube, NASA engineers had to position the WATSON camera on the end of Perseverance’s 7-foot-long (2-meter-long) robotic arm to look under the rover, verifying that the tube hadn’t rolled into the path of the rover’s wheels.
Meenakshi Wadhwa, lead scientist with the Mars Sample Return program at Arizona State University, said: “The samples from this repository – and the duplicates stored aboard Perseverance – are an incredible body representative of the area explored during the mission. main.
“We not only have igneous and sedimentary rocks that record at least two and possibly four distinct styles of aqueous weathering, but also regolith, atmosphere, and a witness tube.”