In just a few years, NASA and ESA want to bring rock samples from Mars to Earth. There is now a backup depot in case the plan doesn’t work out.
The tenth rock sample was taken (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
After about six weeks of work, NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars deposited the tenth soil sample at the deposit, which serves as a backup: should the rover not be able to bring the remaining soil samples to a future lander, which transports them to Earth, these would be picked instead. They are located in an area that the US space agency has dubbed “Three Forks”. The rover itself can now devote itself to research again and is supposed to climb the nearby slope.
Backup for the actual plan
The researchers entrusted with the mission assume that the samples collected and now deposited represent an “excellent cross-section” of the geological processes that took place shortly after the formation of the crater four billion years ago. In addition, Perseverance has placed an atmosphere sample and a tube that can be used to determine whether the others have been contaminated by material brought from Earth. All were deposited in a zigzag pattern and about five to 15 meters apart, NASA explains. In addition, the exact positions have been meticulously recorded so that the samples can be found even when they are covered in dust.
Since the end of December, Perseverance has been preparing for the “Mars Sample Return” mission, which NASA is planning with ESA, by storing the soil samples. In 2028, a lander is to be sent to Mars, which is to touch down near the location of Perseverance. The rover is then supposed to bring the remaining sample containers to him and stow them in a small space capsule, which will then be launched with a rocket. In orbit, it is then to be collected by another space probe and sent to Earth. In the event that Perseverance is no longer able to do so, the lender will carry small helicopters, which are otherwise supposed to collect the now-deposited samples at the “Three Forks” depot.
The exact storage locations (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Perseverance landed on Mars in February 2021. The rover is to search for traces of possible life in a former delta. In front of its foothills, he has put down the samples, and now he is to climb the former delta again. Perseverance is accompanied by the small helicopter Ingenuity. It should actually only prove that motorized aircraft can take off from Mars at all. But he mastered that with flying colors and has not yet been deactivated for that reason. Perseverance’s soil samples may be the first samples from another planet’s surface to be studied on Earth.