NASA’s Perseverance

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover gathered and stored the first samples of Martian rock for later return to Earth. However, precisely when those samples will come on Earth remains ambiguous.

At a 10th September news briefing, NASA officials and project researchers greeted the collection of two samples. This is from a rock dubbed “Rochette” as a most important step forward in the long-term Mars sample return attempt. The effort will conclude no earlier than a decade from now with those samples returned to Earth.

“These now signify the beginning of Mars sample return,” says Meenakshi Wadhwa. Meenakshi is an Arizona State University planetary researcher who serves as Mars sample return head scientist for NASA.

The effective collections of the first two samples arrived a month after the rover tried and failed. This is in order to collect a sample from an alternative rock, known as Roubion. Scientists determined that the problem was not with the sampling approach. However, instead of with the rock itself.

The Problem –

It was weaker than anticipated and disintegrated through the sampling process.

The two volcanic rocks are parallel, but likely were bare to different amounts of water, says Yulia Goreva. Yulia is the Perseverance return sample investigation scientist at JPL. Roubion felt much more variation in the form of salts generated by the exposure to water.

Perseverance will gather nearly three dozen samples through its mission. Researchers say at the conference that they were preparing their next sample collection exertions. Also, left open the likelihood of making one more effort to gather samples from Roubion.

Two future missions will recover those samples and bring them back to Earth. A lander mission, led by NASA and including a European Space Agency rover, will conduct the following –
  • Pick up the samples
  • Load them into a container
  • Launch them into orbit around Mars.

An ESA-led orbiter, with a NASA-supported collection system, will take the samples and return them to Earth.

Funding, she adds, is not an issue. “We are very pleased with the budget application that the president put up for the fiscal year 2022 and beyond. I think we are in a certain good place right at this moment with the financial support that we have,” she says.

The budget proposal includes –
  • $653 million for Mars sample return in 2022
  • $3.5 billion for projected spending from 2022 through 2026

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