Scientist guides Perseverance rover through first phase of Martian rock sampling

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Sample tube number 266 was used to collect the first Martian rock sample by NASA’s Perseverance rover. The laser-etched serial number helps scientists identify the tubes and their contents. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

The evening of August 1 looked a lot like a birthday for NASA planetologist Justin Simon. That night, Simon attended a virtual watch for researchers preparing to use NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover to conduct the first detailed study of a candidate rock target for drilling and sample collection. . Ready to unwrap the gifts, Simon and his fellow researchers anxiously refreshed their inboxes to see the first top-down and close-up images of the rock, which could help them better understand the geological history of the rover’s landing site.

“We used a tool to scrape a 50 millimeter area on the rock,” Simon said. “What we saw was spectacular – you could see the texture and the mineral grains – and we were very happy to see the culmination of our efforts become a reality.”

Simon is a scientist in the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Sciences Division, or ARES, at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. He specializes in the analysis of asteroids, lunars and other space materials. He is part of the Mars 2020 science team to help identify samples to be taken. Thanks to the team’s collective efforts, NASA has collected its first Martian rock samples, which will be transported to Earth by planned future missions. The mission team plans to drive Perseverance around its current location, believed to be a dry lake that once filled an impact crater called Jezero, by sampling various materials. Once the job is done, the rover will leave the samples inside individually sealed tubes that will be collected on subsequent missions.

“This is a historic opportunity,” said Simon. “We’ve been working on sampling Mars for decades, which is part of why it’s so exciting.”

For the first phase of sampling, Simon was given the special role of being the first “shepherd” of the mission sample. The Shepherd consults and coordinates with all the different rover teams – scientists, engineers, controllers, etc. help achieve the scientific objectives of the mission. Simon was given the role of the first stage of sampling due to his background and expertise in the correct management and analysis of alien samples, and his actual experiences in conducting geological work on Earth. .

“Before I was selected to be the first shepherd, I got really involved in learning how to conduct missions because surface operations on missions was new and interesting to me,” said Simon.

In the months leading up to the mission launch, Simon studied images and other material from Mars and participated in scenario testing and training sessions to find the best ways to conduct scientific research with the rover. He also led working groups to plan their field explorations.

“I work well in a team environment,” said Simon. “Add in my geological background in the field which is a strength for a sample scientist, and the mission leadership was confident in my ability to work successfully with the engineering, mission and science teams. of the sample. “

Perseverance is currently exploring a strip of land of approximately 2 kilometers in the Jezero crater. The rover can travel over 100 meters in a single day and has traveled over 1,200 meters to date. As the rover moves, scientists observe and assess objects in the area to determine what to study and what questions they can answer.

The team took one step closer to answering these questions when Perseverance successfully collected its first pair of rock samples. After collecting its first sample, nicknamed “Montdenier”, on September 6, the team took a second sample, “Montagnac”, from the same rock on September 8. The cores from Jezero Crater, each slightly thicker than a pencil, are now encased in airtight titanium sample tubes, making them available for future retrieval. Mission controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California received the data that confirmed this historic milestone.

Simon is excited about Perseverance’s next sample site, just 200 meters (656 feet) from “South Séítah”, a series of ridges covered with sand dunes, boulders and rock shards.

A key focus of Perseverance’s mission is astrobiology, including looking for signs of ancient microbial life. 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.

Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with the European Space Agency, would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and bring them to Earth for further analysis.


NASA’s Perseverance rover plans next Mars sampling attempt


Provided by Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Quote: Scientist guides Perseverance rover through first phase of Martian rock sampling (2021, September 16) retrieved September 20, 2021 from https://phys.org/news/2021-09-scientist-shepherds-perseverance -rover-phase.html

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