Perseverance rover deposits select rock and soil samples in sealed tubes on Mars’s surface for future missions to retrieve and bring back to Earth for detailed study.


If you are in the NASA Mars exploration business, it is nail-biting time. Launched last July and barreling toward the Red Planet is the Perseverance rover, on target for a February 18 encapsulated, heat-resisting nosedive through the planet’s atmosphere.

That fireball of an entry is followed by a sporty auto-controlled touchdown of the robot within Jezero Crater, an ancient lake-delta system that might be ideal to search for signs of fossilized microbial life.

Illustration shows NASA’s Perseverance rover exploring inside Mars’ Jezero Crater, a 28-mile-wide (45-kilometer-wide) feature believed to an ancient lake-delta system in a hunt for signs of past microscopic life.

Perseverance is billed as the largest, heaviest, cleanest, and most complicated six-wheeled robotic geologist ever shot into space.

In short, Perseverance is a long shot of a mission; it is multi-tasking on Mars.

Among key assignments is unleashing a Mars helicopter that reconnoiters the landscape. Then there’s operating a first-generation device to convert the carbon dioxide-saturated martian air into oxygen that, if built bigger, could help sustain future human explorers on Mars by cranking out breathable air, as well as rocket propellant.

This mosaic depicts a possible route the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover could take across Jezero Crater as it investigates several ancient environments that may have once been habitable.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

But there is another major job for the rover that transforms it into a warm-up act of things to come.

Perseverance is to set the stage for a complex, multi-part, multi-year, mega-dollar Mars Sample Return (MSR) endeavor.

For more information, go to my new Scientific American story:

“As Perseverance Approaches Mars, Scientists Debate Its Sampling Strategy – The car-sized rover is the first step in an ambitious effort to bring pieces of the Red Planet back to Earth, but some crucial details remain undecided”

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