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.
NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

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.
NASA/JPL-Caltech

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”

Go to:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/as-perseverance-approaches-mars-scientists-debate-its-sampling-strategy/

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