Perseverance rover marks 1 Mars year on Red Planet
NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover is ending its primary mission to the Red Planet.
The car-sized Perseverance rover landed on the floor of Mars’ Jezero crater on February 18, 2021, launching an ambitious surface mission designed to last one Red Planet year, which is about 687 Earth days.
That time is now over; the Martian calendar turned to Persistence on Friday (January 6). But don’t worry: the six-wheeled robot will make it through an extended mission on Saturday (Jan. 7).
Related: 12 stunning photos from the Perseverance Rover’s first year on the ground on Mars
Persistence has two main tasks on the Red Planet. The rover is hunting for possible signs of life on Mars on the floor of the 45-kilometer-wide Lake Jezero, which housed a large lake and river delta billions of years ago. The persistence is also collecting and storing dozens of samples, which a joint NASA-European Space Agency (ESA) campaign will bring back to Earth for detailed study in the early 2030s, if all goes according to plan.
This campaign will launch a NASA rocket lander as well as an ESA orbiter to return Earth to the Red Planet in the mid to late 2020s. The plan calls for Persistence to take its samples to grounding; the rocket will then launch the precious cargo into Mars orbit, where the ESA probe will grab it and haul the material back to Earth.
Persistence has made a lot of progress on the sampling front to date. The rover has already filled and sealed 18 of its 38 titanium sampling tubes (opens in new tab) as well as three of five “witness tubes,” which will help mission team members assess the cleanliness of the system. sampling Perseverance.
And the rover has also begun storing samples, to date dropping four of 10 planned tubes into a section of Lake Jezero’s floor that the mission team calls Three Forks. This repository is a backup, to cover the possibility that Perseverance will not be able to send its samples to the lander when the time comes. (The rover is in good shape now, but there’s no guarantee its health will last until the end of the decade.)
In that case, two small helicopters that will be launched on board the earth will take the sample pipes from the storage one by one.
With this protection in mind, the mission team collected two samples from each of the target rocks. Persistence is keeping one group on board and keeping the other group safe.
One of the sample pipes was dropped by NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover into a “storage” in Jezero Crater. (Image credit: NASA)
The helicopters received will be based largely on Ingenuity, the 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) helicopter that traveled to Mars tenaciously.
Ingenuity’s main task was to show that aerial exploration is possible on Mars, despite the planet’s thin atmosphere, which is only 1% as dense as Earth’s at sea level. The small rotorcraft quickly achieved this goal during a five-flight demonstration campaign and is now serving as a scout for Persistence on an ambitious extended mission.
Ingenuity now has 37 flights under its belt, which together have covered a total of 4.7 miles (7.6 kilometers). The Persistence, for its part, has accumulated nearly 8.7 miles (14.0 km) of driving outside Earth, and that total will increase significantly during its extended mission.
After completing sampling at the Three Forks repository, Perseverance will head toward the top of the ancient Jezero River delta, likely completing the ascent in February. The rover will then explore the region for about the next eight months, looking for, among other things, rocks that were thrown into the crater by the ancient Jezero River.
“The Delta Top campaign is our opportunity to get a glimpse of the geologic process beyond the walls of Jezero Crater,” Persistence deputy project scientist Katie Stack Morgan of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a statement last month. s in Southern California (opens in new Tab).
“Billions of years ago, a raging river carried debris and rocks from miles beyond the Lake’s walls,” she said. “We will explore these ancient river deposits and take samples of their long-traveled stones and rocks.”
Mike Wall is the author of Out There (opens in new tab) (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or Facebook (opens in new tab).