Mars dust won’t bury Perseverance rover’s rock sample tubes
Neither dust, nor wind, nor the darkness of night will disturb the new deposits of precious samples of Mars on the Red Planet.
This month, NASA’s Perseverance rover dropped a lightsaber-shaped amount of material onto the surface of Mars to lie in wait as a reserve for a future sample return mission. Persistence collects two samples at each site and carries one set with them. If the rover can’t carry the samples in its belly to a waiting spacecraft on its own, two helicopters will tow spare surface tubes to the return rocket instead in the 2030s.
The epic joint NASA-European mission will allow researchers on Earth to examine the tube samples for signatures of life. Given that the tow mission isn’t expected to land until 2030, however, officials at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said on Twitter that they have heard the public’s concerns about wind or dust damaging the tubes, or making hard to find crates.
“My team is not worried,” Perseverance’s official account (opens in new tab) tweeted on Dec. 23, along with a litany of evidence showing why the tubes won’t travel far — and how NASA is tracking locations their deposits as final reserves.
Related: 12 amazing photos from the Perseverance Rover’s first year on Mars
Unlike the fictional, powerful windstorm depicted at the beginning of “The Martian” (2015), the Red Planet has gentle swells. Because of its thin atmosphere at only one-hundredth the pressure of Earth at sea level, the Martian wind is largely limited to picking up fine grains of sand.
“The winds around here can pick up *speed* but they don’t pick up much *stuff.* Think fast, but not strong,” Perseverance’s Twitter account tweeted. In practical terms, winds are not a threat to nuclear-powered missions like Persistence. NASA’s Curiosity rover, for example, is still cruising after 10 Earth years on Mars with only a thin layer of dust covering the machinery, the account noted.
That said, dust covering solar panels (like NASA’s recently completed InSight Mars mission) could pose a long-term threat to exploration, as they slowly shut down the solar power supply — absent a lucky burst. young. “Final end of more than one solar-powered explorer spelled,” noted the Twitter thread about the dust.
Related: Can We Save Mars’ Robots From Death by Dust?
What about something smaller, sitting on the surface? See this ribbon cable leading to @NASAInSight’s seismometer? After four years: a thin layer of dust, but easy to spot. (The pile of dirt you see over part of it is only there because InSight put it there on purpose.) pic.twitter.com/UdpHVY18eADember 23, 2022
Even for tubes that extend down to the surface, NASA expects them to be “easy to spot” based on examples like the older InSight images. After four years of Earth lying on the Red Planet’s soil, the cables from InSight were admittedly dusty, but still distinct.
“Not only do we expect the sample tubes to be uncovered,” Perseverance’s Twitter account wrote along with a map, “but I’m also very carefully documenting exactly where I placed them. So we’ll get back to them later late should not. be an issue.”
The backup mission is currently expected to arrive in nine years, or around 2031. Launch opportunities between Earth and Mars arise roughly every two years, giving some chance of sending a mission there before 2040 — assuming funding for the return mission of the sample are and technology development continues according to plan.
Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of Why Am I Taller (opens in new tab)? (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book on space medicine. Follow him on Twitter @howellspace (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or Facebook (opens in new tab).