Major Milestone: NASA Perseverance Mars Rover To Acquire First Sample

Perseverance Scouts First Sampling Location

Perseverance Scouts First Sampling Location: A light-colored “paver stone” like the ones seen in this mosaic will be the likely target for first sampling by the Perseverance rover. The image was taken on July 8, 2021, in the “Cratered Floor Fractured Rough” geologic unit at Jezero Crater. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

The six-wheeler’s science campaign has laid the groundwork for the mission’s next major milestone.

NASA is making final preparations for its Perseverance Mars rover to collect its first-ever sample of Martian rock, which future planned missions will transport to Earth. The six-wheeled geologist is searching for a scientifically interesting target in a part of Jezero Crater called the “Cratered Floor Fractured Rough.”

Perseverance's First Road Trip

Perseverance’s First Road Trip: This annotated image of Jezero Crater depicts the routes for Perseverance’s first science campaign (yellow hash marks) as well as its second (light-yellow hash marks). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

This important mission milestone is expected to begin within the next two weeks. Perseverance landed in Jezero Crater February 18, and NASA kicked off the rover mission’s science phase June 1, exploring a 1.5-square-mile (4-square-kilometer) patch of crater floor that may contain Jezero’s deepest and most ancient layers of exposed bedrock.

“When Neil Armstrong took the first sample from the Sea of Tranquility 52 years ago, he began a process that would rewrite what humanity knew about the Moon,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters. “I have every expectation that Perseverance’s first sample from Jezero Crater, and those that come after, will do the same for Mars. We are on the threshold of a new era of planetary science and discovery.”

Perseverance Mars Rover First Sample Location

Perseverance Rover Location: This map shows the landing site for NASA’s Perseverance rover within Jezero Crater. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

It took Armstrong 3 minutes and 35 seconds to collect that first Moon sample. Perseverance will require about 11 days to complete its first sampling, as it must receive its instructions from hundreds of millions of miles away while relying on the most complex and capable, as well as the cleanest, mechanism ever to be sent into space – the Sampling and Caching System.

Precision Instruments Working Together

The sampling sequence begins with the rover placing everything necessary for sampling within reach of its 7-foot-long (2-meter-long) robotic arm. It will then perform an imagery survey, so NASA’s science team can determine the exact location for taking the first sample and a separate target site in the same area for “proximity science.”

“The idea is to get valuable data on the rock we are about to sample by finding its geologic twin and performing detailed in-situ analysis,” said science campaign colead Vivian Sun, from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “On the geologic double, first we use an abrading bit to scrape off the top layers of rock and dust to expose fresh, unweathered surfaces, blow it clean with our Gas Dust Removal Tool, and then get up close and personal with our turret-mounted proximity science instruments SHERLOC, PIXL, and WATSON.”

Cratered Floor Fractured Rough First Sample Target

Perseverance First Sample Location: This annotated image depicts the area within the “Cratered Floor Fractured Rough” geologic unit that Perseverance rover will hunt for a suitable first sample target. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals), PIXL (Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry), and the WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering) camera will provide mineral and chemical analysis of the abraded target.

Perseverance’s SuperCam and Mastcam-Z instruments, both located on the rover’s mast, will also participate. While SuperCam fires its laser at the abraded surface, spectroscopically measuring the resulting plume and collecting other data, Mastcam-Z will capture high-resolution imagery.

Working together, these five instruments will enable unprecedented analysis of geological materials at the worksite.

“After our pre-coring science is complete, we will limit rover tasks for a sol, or a Martian day,” said Sun. “This will allow the rover to fully charge its battery for the events of the following day.”

Watch as NASA-JPL engineers test the Sample Caching System on the Perseverance Mars rover. Described as one of the most complex robotic systems ever built, the Sample and Caching System will collect core samples from the rocky surface of Mars, seal them in tubes and leave them for a future mission to retrieve and bring back to Earth. Credit: NASA-JPL/Caltech

Sampling day kicks off with the sample-handling arm within the Adaptive Caching Assembly retrieving a sample tube, heating it, and then inserting it into a coring bit. A device called the bit carousel transports the tube and bit to a rotary-percussive drill on Perseverance’s robotic arm, which will then drill the untouched geologic “twin” of the rock studied the previous sol, filling the tube with a core sample roughly the size of a piece of chalk.

Perseverance’s arm will then move the bit-and-tube combination back into bit carousel, which will transfer it back into the Adaptive Caching Assembly, where the sample will be measured for volume, photographed, hermetically sealed, and stored. The next time the sample tube contents are seen, they will be in a clean room facility on Earth, for analysis using scientific instruments much too large to send to Mars.

“Not every sample Perseverance is collecting will be done in the quest for ancient life, and we don’t expect this first sample to provide definitive proof one way or the other,” said Perseverance project scientist Ken Farley, of Caltech. “While the rocks located in this geologic unit are not great time capsules for organics, we believe they have been around since the formation of Jezero Crater and incredibly valuable to fill gaps in our geologic understanding of this region – things we’ll desperately need to know if we find life once existed on Mars.”

More About the Mission

A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith.

The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is the first step in NASA’s Mars Sample Return Campaign. Subsequent NASA missions, now in development in cooperation with the European Space Agency, would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth 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.

JPL is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California.

7 Comments on "Major Milestone: NASA Perseverance Mars Rover To Acquire First Sample"

  1. A remarkable technological achievement. But one unlikely to add much to the search for life in rocks that are billions of years old. The chemistry and mineralogy of these indurated sediments will not change when studied back on Earth. The critical point will be the finding of fossil organic carbon, the preserved remains from microbes. The odds are very long on these light-colored oxidized rocks. A dark colored shale or mudstone would be a better choice. So far, none have been seen.

    • Torbjörn Larsson | July 23, 2021 at 3:56 pm | Reply

      Sediments can trap fossils or trace fossils, but these early sites are just laying out the context and researching targets of opportunity. Soon the more interesting sediments away from the landing ellipse and up in the delta is targeted.

      “Meanwhile, from afar, Perseverance has spied fine layering in Séítah’s ridges, including a prominent 40-meter-tall plateau dubbed Kodiak that is, in all likelihood, a remnant of the delta’s further reach into the lakebed. Such layering could be caused by mudstones, which smother and preserve life on Earth. But the layers could have a volcanic origin, as well—and so the rover will loop south around Séítah later this year, nudging into a flat space where it can safely sample.

      Once the Séítah campaign is done, Perseverance will backtrack all the way north to its landing site, “putting the pedal to the metal,” Trosper says. And from the landing site, the rover will head north then west on a safe route to the looming cliff of the main delta—and the life-trapping muds entombed within it. ”

      [ ]

  2. In 1976 NASA threw there own Scientist and lab experiment under the bus. The very first try and proof of life existed. Except it didn’t because NASA and the Jet Propulsion Lab realized their mistake. No more money! Gotta milk that cow..So they harpooned and hid the evidence behind the time honored tradition of ruining a scientist career. All true, but no one cares because the media told them not to.

    • Torbjörn Larsson | July 23, 2021 at 4:03 pm | Reply

      No mone cares because your stiory isn’t true. And if anyone tries to ruin Levin’s career it is his own persistence of claiming evidence when it is clearly inconclusive results. There was no evidence to hide, as you can see from it being published in peer review many times over.

      ““When we found the sky of Mars to be a kind of pinkish-yellow rather than the blue which had erroneously first been reported, the announcement was greeted by a chorus of good-natured boos from the assembled reporters,” Sagan later wrote in the introduction to his popular book Cosmos. “They wanted Mars to be, even in this respect, like the Earth.”

      Still, the Viking 1 and 2 landings brought Mars down to Earth, so to speak. “Mars had become a place,” Viking project scientist Gerald Soffen said in an interview for a NASA historical project published in 1984. “It went from a word, an abstract thought, to a real place.”

      In some ways, the Viking landers’ views of Mars were disappointing. The mission’s central goal was explicitly to search for microbial life. It was “a long shot,” journalist Janet L. Hopson wrote in Science News in June 1976 (SN: 6/5/76, p. 374). But “even if no signs of life appear, [biologists] stand to gain their first real perspective on terrestrial biochemistry, life origins and evolution.”

      The results of the Viking mission’s life-detection experiments were inconclusive, a finding almost worse than a true negative.

      NASA subsequently pulled back from seeking life directly. The next 45 years of Mars missions searched for signs of past water, potentially habitable environments and organic molecules, instead of living organisms. All of those features turned up in data from the Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity rovers in the 2000s and 2010s.

      Now, NASA’s Perseverance rover, which landed in February 2021, is hunting for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will cache rock samples that a future mission will bring back to Earth. And the joint Russian and European space agencies’ ExoMars rover — named Rosalind Franklin, after the chemist whose work was central to discovering DNA’s structure — aims to seek molecular signatures of life on Mars and just below the surface after it launches in 2022.

      Sagan predicted in 1973 that if he had been born 50 years in the future, the search for life on Mars would have already been completed. Today, 48 years later, we’re still looking.”

      [ ]

      This isn’t rocket science – it is planetary physics and astrobiology and it will tell its history at its own pace, despite journalists and conspiracy theorists.

      • Torbjörn Larsson | July 23, 2021 at 4:04 pm | Reply

        Oops, typed too fast.

        “No mone cares because your stiory isn’t true.” = No one cares because your story isn’t true.

  3. Each planet and moon should be considered a fuel station for the space force.

    • Torbjörn Larsson | July 23, 2021 at 4:07 pm | Reply

      Not really a science question, is it? (And since it is another system even militaristic interests won’t reach it.)

Leave a comment

Email address is optional. If provided, your email will not be published or shared.