On February 18, 2021, Mars 2020 landed at Jezero Crater on Mars. The mission contained a rover named Perseverance and a helicopter named Ingenuity. The main objectives of the Perseverance rover are to search for signs of ancient microbial life and to study the planet’s geology and past climate. This mission is part of NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, which also includes the Artemis missions to the Moon; these missions will pave the way for future human exploration of the Red Planet, Mars.
Perseverance is the first mission to Mars to collect and cache Martian samples. Some of the samples will include rock and regolith – broken rock and soil. Scientists at NASA and the European Space Agency are working together to plan, design, and build a future mission that would allow these samples to be returned to Earth for in-depth analysis.
This annotated image, captured by NASA's Perseverance rover, shows the location of the 10 sample tubes in the depot. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS
Perseverance recently completed assembly of a sample depot and snapped a portrait of it. The depot serves as a backup collection of samples that could be recovered in the future by the Mars Sample Return campaign. The primary sample tubes reside within the belly of Perseverance itself. These samples, along with samples that will be retrieved in the future, would be passed to a Sample Retriever Lander as part of the campaign. If Perseverance could not deliver the tubes directly to the lander, samples could be retrieved from the depot instead.
The rover began building the depot on December 21, 2022 at “Three Forks” in Jezero Crater. The depot contains 10 backup sample tubes. The portrait was actually a panorama created by stitching together 368 images taken by the rover. The panorama captures more than a month’s careful placement and mapping of the tubes. The images were obtained using the Mastcam-Z camera on January 31, 2023. The color of the image has been adjusted to accurately represent how the Martian surface would appear to the human eye.
What exactly do the samples contain? One of the tubes contains a sample of Mars’ atmosphere. One of the samples serves as a control; it is called a “witness” tube. This “witness” tube would show scientists back on Earth whether any of the samples were contaminated by materials of Earthly origin during the collection process. The other eight tubes are filled with samples of rock and regolith from different locations that Perseverance has visited.
For more information about Perseverance and the mission, please visit the following website: https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/
Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory