Perseverance deposits the first set of Mars samples

Scattered across the icy desolate plain of an ancient Martian lake are ten tiny titanium tubes. Inside are a few grams of Martian soil collected by NASA’s rover drill: they are the first samples from another planet obtained by a human artifact intended to be sent back to Earth. The last of the ten tubes were dropped to the floor of Jezero Crater on January 28, 2023, the mission’s 690th Sol, thus completing a process that took about five weeks (the first tube was dropped on December 21). Pipes make up the first deposit of the Perseverance quest and each has its own name: Amalik, Atsa, Skyland, Berualu, Mondinier, Colette, Ropion, Crosswind Lake, Magic and Malay. The tubes, which are 18.6 cm long, were deposited at a distance of 5 to 15 m from each other to facilitate potential aggregation. The process was more complicated than one might think because the mission team had to make sure each tube was left in a predetermined position and then document its exact location for a future sample return mission.

Persistent figure in the Three Forks area of ​​Jezero crater where he placed his sample tubes. How much can you see? (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS).

The idea is that the tubes can be easily located even if they are covered in dust. And no, no one is afraid of being buried under the sands of Mars: the activity of the winds on the Red Planet is not enough to cover them with earth or sand in ten years, even with the famous dust storms that occur on the planet. level. In addition to samples of Martian soil and rock, Perseverance deposited an air-filled tube to study the Martian atmosphere in detail—the first sealed tube was on August 6, 2021 (Sol 164) in the Roubion region—as well as a control tube to calibrate the analysis of the rest of the samples and ensure that no particles were transferred. Organic matter from Earth to Mars (a “transplanetary organic pollution” problem has turned the Curiosity twin rover team on its head). Of these 10 tubes, the last to be closed was the Crosswind Lake tube – on December 7, 2022 -, which is also the only tube containing Martian regolith, while the rest are cores obtained from different types of rocks (Skyland and Bearwallow and Mageik are samples of sedimentary and other igneous rocks). However, the last tube dropped to Earth was the control tube, Amalik (the first tube dropped was Malay).

Three Forks area as seen on December 14, 2022 before sample release (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS).
Locations where each sample was deposited (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS).
The first sample tube, Malaya, was deposited Dec. 21, 2022 (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS).
Microtubule sites (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS).
The last 10 tubes were deposited on January 28, 2023. It is a control tube, Amalik (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS).

Perseverance has already filled 18 of the 38 tubes it carries and exposed 3 of the 5 control tubes to the Martian environment, so it still keeps 8 sample tubes inside. Ironically, most, perhaps all, of the tubes from this first deposit would never reach the ground. Remember that the current plan for the MSR sample return mission (Mars sample return(includes three probes: persistence, SRL)Sample Loopback Lander) and ERO (European Return Orbiter). If all goes according to plan, NASA’s SRL probe will take off in 2028 and land in 2030 near where Perseverance is currently located. Percy will then approach the probe and hand over the samples, which it will collect using the European robot arm. STA (Sample transfer arm)2.5 meters long. The samples are placed on the tip of the two-stage MAV rocket (Mars ascent vehicle), which will “jump” from the SRL probe and ignite in mid-air. Once in orbit, the container will leave around Mars, where it will be picked up by the European ERO probe, previously launched in 2027, which will bring the samples to Earth in 2033.

Perseverance will approach the SRL probe in 2030 to give it samples (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS).
The European STA robot arm will collect the tubes from Perseverance (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS).
The MAV rocket will be launched from the SRL probe (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS).
The European ERO probe will bring the samples to Earth in 2033 (NASA).
The ERO capsule will land on our planet in 2033 with samples (NASA).

Should Perseverance not run in 2030, NASA has Plan B: The SRL probe will carry two small Ingenuity-like helicopters capable of picking up sample tubes and bringing them to the SRL probe, within reach of the STA arm. Specifically, this first deposit of samples left by Perseverance is part of this Plan B (remember, the tubes are inside Perseverance, so if the rover is incapacitated it will not be possible to extract them). Therefore, if Perseverance continues to operate in 8 years, there will be no need to collect these tubes, although it cannot be ruled out that the helicopters carry some to prove the feasibility of the technique (and to all that, Creativity has already carried off its flight number 41). The tubes were deposited in an area called the Three Forks of Jezero crater. After all 10 tubes have been fired, Perseverance ends its campaign on the River Delta front and proceeds to begin the next scouting campaign. During this phase, you will study the upper part of the delta, where material deposited by ancient Martian rivers should have found it, an ideal place to collect samples rich in organic matter. In any case, there are already ten tubes on Mars that jealously guard the secrets of the Red Planet’s past just waiting to be brought to our planet. We just have to wait ten years.

The NASA SRL probe will carry two Helicopters Capable of Collecting Sample Tubes (NASA).
Samples collected by Perseverance to date and their original location at Jezero Crater (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS).
At this dune, Perseverance collected two Martian regolith samples (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS).
The prominent Jezero Delta as seen from the air by Ingenuity during Flight 41 (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS).

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