Perseverance Collects Its First Martian Rock Sample

The rock core has been sealed in an airtight titanium sample container and will be accessible in the future. 

The first piece of Martian rock, a core from Jezero Crater little thicker than a pencil, was collected today by NASA's Perseverance rover. 

The historic milestone was verified by data obtained by mission controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California. 

The core has been sealed in an airtight titanium sample container and will be retrievable in the future. 

NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) are preparing a series of future flights to return the rover's sample tubes back Earth for further analysis as part of the Mars Sample Return program. 

These samples would be the first time materials from another planet have been scientifically identified , chosen and returned to our world. 

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson stated, "NASA has a history of establishing high objectives and then achieving them, demonstrating our nation's dedication to exploration and innovation." 

“This is a huge accomplishment, and I can't wait to see what Perseverance and our team come up with next.” 

Perseverance's mission includes studying the Jezero region to understand the geology and ancient habitability of the area, as well as characterizing the past climate, in addition to identifying and collecting samples of rock and regolith (broken rock and dust) while searching for signs of ancient microscopic life. 

“This is really a momentous moment for all of NASA research,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, assistant administrator for science at NASA Headquarters in Washington. 

“We will be doing the same with the samples Perseverance gathers as part of our Mars Sample Return program, much as the Apollo Moon missions showed the lasting scientific significance of returning samples from other planets for examination here on our planet. 

We anticipate jaw-dropping findings across a wide range of scientific disciplines, including investigation into the issue of whether life ever existed on Mars, using the most advanced science equipment on Earth.”

Perseverance Rover Sample Tubes from NASA. 

The rover's sample tubes, marvels of engineering, must be robust enough to securely transport Red Planet materials back to Earth in perfect shape. 

The tubes in NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover's belly are set to transport the first samples from another planet back to Earth in history. 

Future researchers will utilize these carefully chosen samples of Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust) to seek for evidence of possible microbial life on Mars in the past, as well as to address other important questions regarding the planet's history. 

On February 18, 2021, Perseverance will touch down at Mars' Jezero Crater. 

The 43 sample tubes heading to Mars, which are about the size and form of a typical lab test tube, must be lightweight and durable enough to withstand the rigors of the round journey, as well as clean enough that future scientists can be sure that what they're studying is 100 percent Mars. 

"When compared to Mars, Earth is brimming with signs of life," Ken Farley, a Mars 2020 project scientist at Caltech in Pasadena, said. 

"We wanted to get rid of those indications completely so that any residual evidence could be reliably identified and distinguished when the first samples were returned."

Engineered containers have been used to transport samples from other planets since Apollo 11. 

In 1969, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin brought back 47.7 pounds (21.8 kilograms) of samples from the Moon's Sea of Tranquility in two triple-sealed briefcase-size metal cases. 

The rock boxes on Apollo, on the other hand, only had to maintain their contents immaculate for approximately 10 days – from the lunar surface until splashdown – before being taken away to the Lunar Receiving Laboratory. 

The scientific value of Perseverance's sample tubes must be isolated and preserved for more than ten years. 

Sample Return from Mars

Mission scientists will decide when and where NASA's newest rover will dig for samples as it explores Jezero Crater. 

The Sample Caching System, the most complex and most sophisticated device ever launched into space, will be used to package this valuable Martian cargo. 

After the samples have been placed on the Martian surface, NASA will complete the relay by launching two more missions in collaboration with ESA (the European Space Agency). 

The sample return campaign's second mission will dispatch a "fetch" rover to collect the hermetically sealed tubes and transfer them to a dedicated sample return container within the Mars Ascent Vehicle. 

If the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover stays healthy for the duration of the mission, it may transport tubes containing samples to the area of the Mars Ascent Vehicle. 

The tubes will subsequently be sent into orbit by the Mars Ascent Vehicle. 

The last mission will send an orbiter to Mars to meet the enclosed samples, collect them in a highly secure containment capsule, and return them to Earth (as early as 2031). 

Sturdy Containers

Each sample tube is made mostly of titanium and weighs less than 2 ounces (57 grams). 

After Perseverance places the tubes on Mars' surface, a white outer covering protects them from being heated by the Sun, which may change the chemical makeup of the samples. 

The crew will be able to identify the tubes and their contents thanks to laser-etched serial numbers on the outside. 

Each tube must fit within Perseverance's Sample Caching System's stringent constraints, as well as those of future missions. 

"We discovered almost 60 distinct measurements to examine despite the fact that they are less than 6 inches [15.2 cm] long," stated JPL Sample Tube Cognizant Engineer Pavlina Karafillis. 

"Because of the complexities of all the intricate processes they would travel through throughout the Mars Sample Return mission, the tube was considered unsuitable for flight if any measurement was off by approximately the thickness of a human hair." #Jezero is 100 percent pure.# Precision engineering is just one aspect of the task at hand. 

The tubes are also the result of stringent cleaning requirements. 

All of NASA's planetary missions use stringent procedures to avoid the entry of organic, inorganic, or biological material from Earth. 

However, since these tubes may contain evidence that life previously existed elsewhere in the cosmos, the Mars 2020 team needed to further minimize the chance that they could house Earthly artifacts that would obstruct the scientific process. 

Nothing should be in a tube until the Sample Caching System starts filling it with 9 cubic inches (147 cubic centimeters) of Jezero Crater, according to the directive (about the size of a piece of chalk). 

"And they meant it when they said 'nothing,'" Ian Clark, the mission's assistant project systems engineer for sample tube cleaning at JPL, said. 

"For example, we wanted to keep the total quantity of Earth-based organic molecules in a particular sample to fewer than 150 nanograms to accomplish the type of research the project is pursuing. 

We were restricted to fewer than 15 nanograms in a sample for a group of certain chemical components - ones that are highly suggestive of life." A billionth of a gram is referred to as a nanogram. 

A typical thumbprint contains approximately 45,000 nanograms of organics, which is about 300 times the maximum permitted in a sample tube. 

The crew had to rewrite the book on cleaning in order to satisfy the mission's strict requirements. 

"All of our assembly was done in a hyper-clean-room environment, which is really a clean room within a clean room," Clark said. 

"The sample tubes would be cleaned with filtered air blasts, washed with deionized water, and acoustically cleaned with acetone, isopropyl alcohol, and other exotic cleaning chemicals in the interim between assembly processes." The crew would test impurities and bake the tubes after each cleaning for good measure. 

Each of the 43 sample tubes chosen for flight from a field of 93 had produced almost 250 pages of paperwork and 3 terabytes of pictures and movies by the time they were chosen. 

Up to 38 of the tubes onboard Perseverance will be filled with Martian rock and regolith. 

The other five are "witness tubes," which have been filled with molecular and particle contaminants-capturing materials. 

They'll be opened one at a time on Mars, mainly at sample collection sites, to observe the ambient environment and record any Earthly impurities or pollutants from the spacecraft that may be present during sample collection. 

The return and analysis of the sample and witness tubes on Earth will enable the entire range of terrestrial scientific laboratory capabilities to examine the samples, utilizing equipment that are too big and complicated to transport to Mars. 

More Information about the Mission

Astrobiology, particularly the hunt for evidence of ancient microbial life, is a major goal of Perseverance's mission on Mars. 

The rover will study the planet's geology and climatic history, lay the path for human exploration of Mars, and be the first mission to gather and store Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust). 

Following missions, which NASA is considering in collaboration with ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to retrieve these stored samples from the surface and return them to Earth for further study. 

The Mars 2020 mission is part of a broader program that includes lunar missions in order to prepare for human exploration of Mars. 

NASA's Artemis lunar exploration plans are tasked with sending humans to the Moon by 2024 and establishing a long-term human presence on and around the Moon by 2028. 

The Perseverance rover was constructed and is operated by JPL, which is administered for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California.

The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA's Moon to Mars exploration strategy, which includes Artemis lunar missions to assist prepare for human exploration of Mars. 

The Perseverance rover was constructed and is operated by JPL, which is administered for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California. 

For additional information about Perseverance, go to:


~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan

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