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  Perseverance to rove Mars' Jezero Crater (Page 2)

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Author Topic:   Perseverance to rove Mars' Jezero Crater
Robert Pearlman
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NASA release
Another First: Perseverance Captures the Sounds of Driving on Mars

As the Perseverance rover began to make tracks on the surface of Mars, a sensitive microphone it carries scored a first: the bangs, pings, and rattles of the robot's six wheels as they rolled over Martian terrain.

Above: NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover acquired this image using its onboard Left Navigation Camera (Navcam). The camera is located high on the rover’s mast and aids in driving. This image was acquired on Mar. 7, 2021 (Sol 16) at the local mean solar time of 15:04:10.

"A lot of people, when they see the images, don't appreciate that the wheels are metal," said Vandi Verma, a senior engineer and rover driver at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. "When you're driving with these wheels on rocks, it's actually very noisy."

More than 16 minutes of sounds from Perseverance's 90-foot (27.3-meter) drive on March 7 were captured by Perseverance's entry, descent, and landing (EDL) microphone, which remains operational on the rover after its historic touchdown on Feb. 18. The off-the-shelf microphone was added to the rover to help take the public along for the ride during touchdown, but mission members have been eager to hear the sounds from the surface, too.

"If I heard these sounds driving my car, I'd pull over and call for a tow," said Dave Gruel, lead engineer for Mars 2020's EDL Camera and Microphone subsystem. "But if you take a minute to consider what you're hearing and where it was recorded, it makes perfect sense."

Two versions of the audio clip of the same drive were released to the public on March 17. The first version features over 16 minutes of raw, unfiltered sounds of the rover traveling in Jezero Crater. In it, the noise generated by the interaction of Perseverance's mobility system (its wheels and suspension) with the surface can be heard, along with a high-pitched scratching noise. Perseverance's engineering team continues to evaluate the source of the scratching noise, which may either be electromagnetic interference from one of the rover's electronics boxes or interactions between the mobility system and the Martian surface. The EDL microphone was not intended for surface operations and had limited testing in this configuration before launch.

The second version is a shorter compilation of sounds from the longer raw recording of the drive. For this 90-second version, NASA engineers combined three segments from the raw audio file (sections 0:20-0:45, 6:40-7:10, and 14:30-15:00), processing and editing them to filter out some of the noise.

This first audio of a drive across the Martian surface joins a growing playlist of Mars sounds beamed back to Earth from Perseverance. A second microphone, part of the rover’s SuperCam instrument, previously picked up the sighing of Martian wind and the rapid ticking sound of the instrument’s laser zapping rocks to reveal details of their structure and composition. Such information will help scientists as they search Jezero Crater for signs of ancient microscopic life, taking samples of rock and sediment to be returned to Earth by future missions.

The SuperCam sounds were part of a series of systems checks the rover has gone through, ranging from the unstowing of Perseverance’s massive robotic arm to making its first weather observations using the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer.

The rover has also been searching for a suitable airfield for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter to attempt its first flight tests. Now that the right spot has been found, the Perseverance and Ingenuity teams are making plans for the rover to deploy the helicopter, which will have 30 Martian days, or sols (31 Earth days), to complete up to five test flights.

And then the hunt for ancient life will begin in earnest, with Perseverance exploring terrain once thought to be covered with water. Between the rover’s 19 cameras and its two microphones, the experience will be packed with sights and sounds. For Verma, who has helped “drive” NASA’s last four Mars rovers, planning their routes and transmitting instructions so they can take a day’s drive across uncharted terrain, the audio is more than just cool.

“The variations between Earth and Mars – we have a feeling for that visually,” she said. “But sound is a whole different dimension: to see the differences between Earth and Mars, and experience that environment more closely.”

Robert Pearlman
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NASA release
NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover Extracts First Oxygen from Red Planet

The growing list of "firsts" for Perseverance, NASA's newest six-wheeled robot on the Martian surface, includes converting some of the Red Planet's thin, carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere into oxygen. A toaster-size, experimental instrument aboard Perseverance called the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) accomplished the task. The test took place April 20, the 60th Martian day, or sol, since the mission landed Feb. 18.

Above: After a 2-hour warmup period MOXIE began producing oxygen at a rate of 6 grams per hour. The was reduced two times during the run (labeled as “current sweeps”) in order to assess the status of the instrument. After an hour of operation the total oxygen produced was about 5.4 grams, enough to keep an astronaut healthy for about 10 minutes of normal activity. (MIT Haystack Observatory)

While the technology demonstration is just getting started, it could pave the way for science fiction to become science fact – isolating and storing oxygen on Mars to help power rockets that could lift astronauts off the planet's surface. Such devices also might one day provide breathable air for astronauts themselves. MOXIE is an exploration technology investigation – as is the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) weather station – and is sponsored by NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) and Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.

"This is a critical first step at converting carbon dioxide to oxygen on Mars," said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for STMD. "MOXIE has more work to do, but the results from this technology demonstration are full of promise as we move toward our goal of one day seeing humans on Mars. Oxygen isn't just the stuff we breathe. Rocket propellant depends on oxygen, and future explorers will depend on producing propellant on Mars to make the trip home."

For rockets or astronauts, oxygen is key, said MOXIE's principal investigator, Michael Hecht of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Haystack Observatory.

To burn its fuel, a rocket must have more oxygen by weight. Getting four astronauts off the Martian surface on a future mission would require approximately 15,000 pounds (7 metric tons) of rocket fuel and 55,000 pounds (25 metric tons) of oxygen. In contrast, astronauts living and working on Mars would require far less oxygen to breathe. "The astronauts who spend a year on the surface will maybe use one metric ton between them," Hecht said.

Hauling 25 metric tons of oxygen from Earth to Mars would be an arduous task. Transporting a one-ton oxygen converter – a larger, more powerful descendant of MOXIE that could produce those 25 tons – would be far more economical and practical.

Mars' atmosphere is 96% carbon dioxide. MOXIE works by separating oxygen atoms from carbon dioxide molecules, which are made up of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms. A waste product, carbon monoxide, is emitted into the Martian atmosphere.

The conversion process requires high levels of heat to reach a temperature of approximately 1,470 degrees Fahrenheit (800 Celsius). To accommodate this, the MOXIE unit is made with heat-tolerant materials. These include 3D-printed nickel alloy parts, which heat and cool the gases flowing through it, and a lightweight aerogel that helps hold in the heat. A thin gold coating on the outside of MOXIE reflects infrared heat, keeping it from radiating outward and potentially damaging other parts of Perseverance.

Above: Technicians at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory lower the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) instrument into the belly of the Perseverance rover. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

In this first operation, MOXIE's oxygen production was quite modest – about 5 grams, equivalent to about 10 minutes worth of breathable oxygen for an astronaut. MOXIE is designed to generate up to 10 grams of oxygen per hour.

This technology demonstration was designed to ensure the instrument survived the launch from Earth, a nearly seven-month journey through deep space, and touchdown with Perseverance on Feb. 18. MOXIE is expected to extract oxygen at least nine more times over the course of a Martian year (nearly two years on Earth).

These oxygen-production runs will come in three phases. The first phase will check out and characterize the instrument's function, while the second phase will run the instrument in varying atmospheric conditions, such as different times of day and seasons. In the third phase, Hecht said, "we'll push the envelope" – trying new operating modes, or introducing "new wrinkles, such as a run where we compare operations at three or more different temperatures."

"MOXIE isn't just the first instrument to produce oxygen on another world," said Trudy Kortes, director of technology demonstrations within STMD. It's the first technology of its kind that will help future missions "live off the land," using elements of another world's environment, also known as in-situ resource utilization.

"It's taking regolith, the substance you find on the ground, and putting it through a processing plant, making it into a large structure, or taking carbon dioxide – the bulk of the atmosphere – and converting it into oxygen," she said. "This process allows us to convert these abundant materials into useable things: propellant, breathable air, or, combined with hydrogen, water."

Robert Pearlman
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NASA release
Perseverance's Robotic Arm Starts Conducting Science

NASA's Perseverance rover has been busy serving as a communications base station for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter and documenting the rotorcraft's historic flights. But the rover has also been busy focusing its science instruments on rocks that lay on the floor of Jezero Crater.

Above: NASA's Perseverance Mars rover used its dual-camera Mastcam-Z imager to capture this image of "Santa Cruz," a hill within Jezero Crater, on April 29, 2021, the 68th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS)

What insights they turn up will help scientists create a timeline of when an ancient lake formed there, when it dried, and when sediment began piling up in the delta that formed in the crater long ago. Understanding this timeline should help date rock samples – to be collected later in the mission – that might preserve a record of ancient microbes.

A camera called WATSON on the end of the rover's robotic arm has taken detailed shots of the rocks. A pair of zoomable cameras that make up the Mastcam-Z imager on the rover's "head" has also surveyed the terrain. And a laser instrument called SuperCam has zapped some of the rocks to detect their chemistry. These instruments and others allow scientists to learn more about Jezero Crater and to home in on areas they might like to study in greater depth.

One important question scientists want to answer: whether these rocks are sedimentary (like sandstone) or igneous (formed by volcanic activity). Each type of rock tells a different kind of story. Some sedimentary rocks – formed in the presence of water from rock and mineral fragments like sand, silt, and clay – are better suited to preserving biosignatures, or signs of past life. Igneous rocks, on the other hand, are more precise geological clocks that allow scientists to create an accurate timeline of how an area formed.

Above: NASA's Perseverance rover viewed these rocks with its Mastcam-Z imager on April 27, 2021. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS)

One complicating factor is that the rocks around Perseverance have been eroded by wind over time and covered with younger sand and dust. On Earth, a geologist might trudge into the field and break a rock sample open to get a better idea of its origins. "When you look inside a rock, that's where you see the story," said Ken Farley of Caltech, Perseverance's project scientist.

While Perseverance doesn't have a rock hammer, it does have other ways to peer past millennia's worth of dust. When scientists find a particularly enticing spot, they can reach out with the rover's arm and use an abrader to grind and flatten a rock's surface, revealing its internal structure and composition. Once they've done that, the team gathers more detailed chemical and mineralogical information using arm instruments called PIXL (Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry) and SHERLOC (Scanning for Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals).

"The more rocks you look at, the more you know," Farley said.

And the more the team knows, the better samples they can ultimately collect with the drill on the rover's arm. The best ones will be stored in special tubes and deposited in collections on the planet's surface for eventual return to Earth.

Robert Pearlman
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NASA release
NASA Perseverance Mars Rover to Acquire First Sample

NASA is making final preparations for its Perseverance Mars rover to collect its first-ever sample of Martian rock, which future planned missions will transport to Earth. The six-wheeled geologist is searching for a scientifically interesting target in a part of Jezero Crater called the "Cratered Floor Fractured Rough."

Above: A light-colored “paver stone,” like the ones seen in this mosaic image, will be the likely target for first sampling by the Perseverance rover. This image was taken July 8, 2021, in the “Cratered Floor Fractured Rough” geologic unit at Jezero Crater. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS)

This important mission milestone is expected to begin within the next two weeks. Perseverance landed in Jezero Crater Feb. 18, and NASA kicked off the rover mission's science phase June 1, exploring a 1.5-square-mile (4-square-kilometer) patch of crater floor that may contain Jezero's deepest and most ancient layers of exposed bedrock.

"When Neil Armstrong took the first sample from the Sea of Tranquility 52 years ago, he began a process that would rewrite what humanity knew about the Moon," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters. "I have every expectation that Perseverance's first sample from Jezero Crater, and those that come after, will do the same for Mars. We are on the threshold of a new era of planetary science and discovery."

It took Armstrong 3 minutes and 35 seconds to collect that first Moon sample. Perseverance will require about 11 days to complete its first sampling, as it must receive its instructions from hundreds of millions of miles away while relying on the most complex and capable, as well as the cleanest, mechanism ever to be sent into space – the Sampling and Caching System.

Precision Instruments Working Together

The sampling sequence begins with the rover placing everything necessary for sampling within reach of its 7-foot (2-meter) long robotic arm. It will then perform an imagery survey, so NASA's science team can determine the exact location for taking the first sample, and a separate target site in the same area for "proximity science."

"The idea is to get valuable data on the rock we are about to sample by finding its geologic twin and performing detailed in-situ analysis," said science campaign co-lead Vivian Sun, from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. "On the geologic double, first we use an abrading bit to scrape off the top layers of rock and dust to expose fresh, unweathered surfaces, blow it clean with our Gas Dust Removal Tool, and then get up close and personal with our turret-mounted proximity science instruments SHERLOC, PIXL, and WATSON."

SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals), PIXL (Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry), and the WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering) camera will provide mineral and chemical analysis of the abraded target. Perseverance's SuperCam and Mastcam-Z instruments, both located on the rover's mast, will also participate. While SuperCam fires its laser at the abraded surface, spectroscopically measuring the resulting plume and collecting other data, Mastcam-Z will capture high-resolution imagery.

Working together, these five instruments will enable unprecedented analysis of geological materials at the worksite.

"After our pre-coring science is complete, we will limit rover tasks for a sol, or a Martian day," said Sun. "This will allow the rover to fully charge its battery for the events of the following day."

Sampling day kicks off with the sample-handling arm within the Adaptive Caching Assembly retrieving a sample tube, heating it, and then inserting it into a coring bit. A device called the bit carousel transports the tube and bit to a rotary-percussive drill on Perseverance's robotic arm, which will then drill the untouched geologic "twin" of the rock studied the previous sol, filling the tube with a core sample roughly the size of a piece of chalk.

Perseverance's arm will then move the bit-and-tube combination back into bit carousel, which will transfer it back into the Adaptive Caching Assembly, where the sample will be measured for volume, photographed, hermetically sealed, and stored. The next time the sample tube contents are seen, they will be in a clean room facility on Earth, for analysis using scientific instruments much too large to send to Mars.

"Not every sample Perseverance is collecting will be done in the quest for ancient life, and we don't expect this first sample to provide definitive proof one way or the other," said Perseverance project scientist Ken Farley, of Caltech. "While the rocks located in this geologic unit are not great time capsules for organics, we believe they have been around since the formation of Jezero Crater and incredibly valuable to fill gaps in our geologic understanding of this region – things we'll desperately need to know if we find life once existed on Mars."

Robert Pearlman
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NASA release
NASA's Perseverance Team Assessing First Mars Sampling Attempt

Data sent to Earth by NASA's Perseverance rover after its first attempt to collect a rock sample on Mars and seal it in a sample tube indicate that no rock was collected during the initial sampling activity.

Above: This image taken by one the hazard cameras aboard NASA’s Perseverance rover on Aug. 6, 2021, shows the hole drilled in what the rover’s science team calls a “paver rock” in preparation for the mission’s first attempt to collect a sample from Mars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The rover carries 43 titanium sample tubes, and is exploring Jezero Crater, where it will be gathering samples of rock and regolith (broken rock and dust) for future analysis on Earth.

"While this is not the 'hole-in-one' we hoped for, there is always risk with breaking new ground," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "I'm confident we have the right team working this, and we will persevere toward a solution to ensure future success."

Perseverance's Sampling and Caching System uses a hollow coring bit and a percussive drill at the end of its 7-foot-long (2-meter-long) robotic arm to extract samples. Telemetry from the rover indicates that during its first coring attempt, the drill and bit were engaged as planned, and post-coring the sample tube was processed as intended.

"The sampling process is autonomous from beginning to end," said Jessica Samuels, the surface mission manager for Perseverance at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. "One of the steps that occurs after placing a probe into the collection tube is to measure the volume of the sample. The probe did not encounter the expected resistance that would be there if a sample were inside the tube."

The Perseverance mission is assembling a response team to analyze the data. One early step will be to use the WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering) imager – located at the end of the robotic arm – to take close-up pictures of the borehole. Once the team has a better understanding of what happened, it will be able to ascertain when to schedule the next sample collection attempt.

"The initial thinking is that the empty tube is more likely a result of the rock target not reacting the way we expected during coring, and less likely a hardware issue with the Sampling and Caching System," said Jennifer Trosper, project manager for Perseverance at JPL. "Over the next few days, the team will be spending more time analyzing the data we have, and also acquiring some additional diagnostic data to support understanding the root cause for the empty tube."

Previous NASA missions on Mars have also encountered surprising rock and regolith properties during sample collection and other activities. In 2008, the Phoenix mission sampled soil that was "sticky" and difficult to move into onboard science instruments, resulting in multiple tries before achieving success. Curiosity has drilled into rocks that turned out to be harder and more brittle than expected. Most recently, the heat probe on the InSight lander, known as the "mole," was unable to penetrate the Martian surface as planned.

"I have been on every Mars rover mission since the beginning, and this planet is always teaching us what we don't know about it," said Trosper. "One thing I've found is, it's not unusual to have complications during complex, first-time activities."

First Science Campaign

Perseverance is currently exploring two geologic units containing Jezero Crater's deepest and most ancient layers of exposed bedrock and other intriguing geologic features. The first unit, called the "Crater Floor Fractured Rough," is the floor of Jezero. The adjacent unit, named "Séítah" (meaning "amidst the sand" in the Navajo language), has Mars bedrock as well, and is also home to ridges, layered rocks, and sand dunes.

Recently, the Perseverance science team began using color images from the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter to help scout for areas of potential scientific interest and to look for potential hazards. Ingenuity completed its 11th flight Wednesday, Aug. 4, traveling about 1,250 feet (380 meters) downrange of its current location so that it could provide the project aerial reconnaissance of the southern Séítah area.

The rover's initial science foray, which spans hundreds of sols (or Martian days), will be complete when Perseverance returns to its landing site. At that point, Perseverance will have traveled between 1.6 and 3.1 miles (2.5 and 5 kilometers) and may have filled up to eight of its sample tubes.

Next, Perseverance will travel north, then west, toward the location of its second science campaign: Jezero Crater's delta region. The delta is the fan-shaped remains of the confluence of an ancient river and a lake within Jezero Crater. The region may be especially rich in carbonate minerals. On Earth, such minerals can preserve fossilized signs of ancient microscopic life and are associated with biological processes.

Robert Pearlman
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NASA release by Louise Jandura, Chief Engineer for Sampling & Caching
Assessing Perseverance's First Sample Attempt

After the commands for sol 164 were sent for the first sample acquisition and processing on the target Roubion, it was time to take a few hours off and wait for the result. More than 90 engineers and scientists who had worked years preparing for this moment gathered online at 2 a.m. PDT on Friday, August 6 to wait together for the first data from the coring operation.

This data verified that the Corer had achieved the full commanded depth (7 centimeters) and we saw the image of the hole on Mars surrounded by the cuttings pile (material produced around the borehole during coring). So far, so good we thought as we signed off to try and get a few more hours of sleep before the next set of data arrived about 6 hours later.

Above: The drill hole from Perseverance’s first sample-collection attempt can be seen, along with the shadow of the rover, in the left image taken by one of the rover’s navigation cameras. The right image is a composite image of Perseverance’s first borehole on Mars was generated using multiple images taken by the rover’s WATSON imager. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

What followed later in the morning was a rollercoaster of emotions. Engineering telemetry and an image from the CacheCam inside the Adaptive Caching Assembly (ACA, the tube processing hardware) confirmed we had transferred the sample tube from the Corer to the ACA, sealed the sample tube, and successfully placed it in storage – a huge first-time success. The team was elated. Then the volume measurement and post-measurement image arrived indicating that the sample tube was empty. It took a few minutes for this reality to sink in but the team quickly transitioned to investigation mode. It is what we do. It is the basis of science and engineering.

What followed was two full days of combing through the data and adding more observations to the tactical plan to augment the investigation. Thus far we have concluded the following:

  1. Engineering telemetry of the Corer performance during both the abrasion and coring activities has not uncovered any unusual response compared to the data from our successful Earth-based testing (> 100 cores drilled in a range of test rocks);

  2. Imaging of the workspace in the areas over which the hardware has traveled during the post-coring activities has not resulted in finding an intact core or core pieces on the Martian surface;

  3. Depth measurements of the borehole derived from the merge of image products from WATSON along with the image itself lead us to believe that the coring activity in this unusual rock resulted only in powder/small fragments which were not retained due to their size and the lack of any significant chunk of a core. It appears that the rock was not robust enough to produce a core. Some material is visible in the bottom of the hole. The material from the desired core is likely either in the bottom of the hole, in the cuttings pile, or some combination of both. We are unable to distinguish further given the measurement uncertainties.
Both the science and engineering teams believe that the uniqueness of this rock and its material properties are the dominant contributor to the difficulty in extracting a core from it. Therefore, we will head to the next sampling location in South Seitah, the farthest point of this phase of our science campaign. Based on rover and helicopter imaging to date, we will likely encounter sedimentary rocks there that we anticipate will align better with our Earth-based test experience.

The hardware performed as commanded but the rock did not cooperate this time. It reminds me yet again of the nature of exploration. A specific result is never guaranteed no matter how much you prepare. Despite this result, science and engineering have progressed. We achieved the first complete autonomous sequence of our sampling system on Mars within the time constraints of a single Sol. This bodes well for the pace of our remaining science campaign. We are looking forward to the next sampling attempt in South Seitah, anticipated in early September.

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NASA release
NASA's Perseverance Rover Successfully Cores Its First Rock

Data received late Sept. 1 from NASA's Perseverance rover indicate the team has achieved its goal of successfully coring a Mars rock. The initial images downlinked after the historic event show an intact sample present in the tube after coring. However, additional images taken after the arm completed sample acquisition were inconclusive due to poor sunlight conditions. Another round of images with better lighting will be taken before the sample processing continues.

Above: The drill hole from Perseverance's second sample-collection attempt can be seen, in this composite of two images taken on Sept. 1, by one of the rover's navigation cameras. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Obtaining additional imagery prior to proceeding with the sealing and storing of Mars rock sample is an extra step the team opted to include based on its experience with the rover's sampling attempt on Aug. 5. Although the Perseverance mission team is confident that the sample is in the tube, images in optimal lighting conditions will confirm its presence.

Perseverance's Sampling and Caching System uses a rotary-percussive drill and a hollow coring bit at the end of its 7-foot-long (2-meter-long) robotic arm to extract samples slightly thicker than a pencil. Within the bit during coring is a sample tube. After completing yesterday's coring, Perseverance maneuvered the corer, bit, and open end of the sample tube in order to be imaged by the rover's Mastcam-Z instrument. The target for the sample collection attempt was a briefcase-size rock belonging to a ridgeline that is more than half-a-mile (900 meters) long and contains rock outcrops and boulders.

Above: This Sept. 1 image from NASA's Perseverance rover shows a sample tube with its cored-rock contents inside. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

The initial set of images from Mastcam-Z showed the end of a cored rock within the sample tube. After taking these images, the rover began a procedure called "percuss to ingest," which vibrates the drill bit and tube for one second, five separate times. The movement is designed to clear the lip of the sample tube of any residual material. The action can also cause a sample to slide down farther into the tube. After the rover finished the percuss-to-ingest procedure, it took a second set of Mastcam-Z images. In these images, the lighting is poor, and internal portions of the sample tube are not visible.

"The project got its first cored rock under its belt, and that's a phenomenal accomplishment," said Jennifer Trosper, project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. "The team determined a location, and selected and cored a viable and scientifically valuable rock. We did what we came to do. We will work through this small hiccup with the lighting conditions in the images and remain encouraged that there is sample in this tube."

Above: Taken Sept. 1 by Mastcam-Z after Perseverance's sample-coring activities, this image shows the rover's drill with no cored rock sample evident in the sample tube. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Commands uplinked to the rover earlier today will result in images of the corer and tube to be acquired tomorrow, Sept. 3, at times of day on Mars when the Sun is angled in a more favorable position. Photos will also be taken after sunset to diminish point-sources of light that can saturate an image. The photos will be returned to Earth early in the morning of Sept. 4.

If the results of this additional imaging remain inconclusive, the Perseverance team still has several options to choose from going forward, including using the Sampling and Caching System's volume probe (located inside the rover's chassis) as a final confirmation of the sample being in the tube.

The Sept. 1 coring is the second time that Perseverance has employed its Sampling and Caching System since landing in Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021.

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NASA release
NASA's Perseverance Rover Collects First Mars Rock Sample

NASA's Perseverance rover today (Sept. 6) completed the collection of the first sample of Martian rock, a core from Jezero Crater slightly thicker than a pencil. Mission controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California received data that confirmed the historic milestone.

Above: Perseverance's first cored-rock sample of Mars rock is seen inside its titanium container tube in this image taken by the rover's Sampling and Caching System Camera (known as CacheCam). (NASA)

The core is now enclosed in an airtight titanium sample tube, making it available for retrieval in the future. Through the Mars Sample Return campaign, NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) are planning a series of future missions to return the rover's sample tubes to Earth for closer study. These samples would be the first set of scientifically identified and selected materials returned to our planet from another.

"NASA has a history of setting ambitious goals and then accomplishing them, reflecting our nation's commitment to discovery and innovation," said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. "This is a momentous achievement and I can't wait to see the incredible discoveries produced by Perseverance and our team."

Along with identifying and collecting samples of rock and regolith (broken rock and dust) while searching for signs of ancient microscopic life, Perseverance's mission includes studying the Jezero region to understand the geology and ancient habitability of the area, as well as to characterize the past climate.

"For all of NASA science, this is truly a historic moment," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Just as the Apollo Moon missions demonstrated the enduring scientific value of returning samples from other worlds for analysis here on our planet, we will be doing the same with the samples Perseverance collects as part of our Mars Sample Return program. Using the most sophisticated science instruments on Earth, we expect jaw-dropping discoveries across a broad set of science areas, including exploration into the question of whether life once existed on Mars."

First Sample

The sample-taking process began on Wednesday, Sept. 1, when the rotary-percussive drill at the end of Perseverance's robotic arm cored into a flat, briefcase-size Mars rock nicknamed "Rochette."

Above: This sealed titanium sample tube contains Perseverance's first cored sample of Mars rock. The rover's Sampling and Caching System Camera (known as CacheCam) captured this image. (NASA)

After completing the coring process, the arm maneuvered the corer, bit, and sample tube so the rover's Mastcam-Z camera instrument could image the contents of the still-unsealed tube and transmit the results back to Earth. After mission controllers confirmed the cored rock's presence in the tube, they sent a command to complete processing of the sample.

Today, at 12:34 a.m. EDT, Perseverance transferred sample tube serial number 266 and its Martian cargo into the rover's interior to measure and image the rock core. It then hermetically sealed the container, took another image, and stored the tube.

"With over 3,000 parts, the Sampling and Caching System is the most complex mechanism ever sent into space," said Larry D. James, interim director of JPL. "Our Perseverance team is excited and proud to see the system perform so well on Mars and take the first step for returning samples to Earth. We also recognize that a worldwide team of NASA, industry partners, academia, and international space agencies contributed to and share in this historic success."

First Science Campaign

Perseverance is currently exploring the rocky outcrops and boulders of "Artuby," a ridgeline of more than a half-mile (900 meters) bordering two geologic units believed to contain Jezero Crater's deepest and most ancient layers of exposed bedrock.

"Getting the first sample under our belt is a huge milestone," said Perseverance Project Scientist Ken Farley of Caltech. "When we get these samples back on Earth, they are going to tell us a great deal about some of the earliest chapters in the evolution of Mars. But however geologically intriguing the contents of sample tube 266 will be, they won't tell the complete story of this place. There is a lot of Jezero Crater left to explore, and we will continue our journey in the months and years ahead."

The rover's initial science foray, which spans hundreds of sols (Martian days), will be complete when Perseverance returns to its landing site. At that point, Perseverance will have traveled between 1.6 and 3.1 miles (2.5 and 5 kilometers) and may have filled as many as eight of its 43 sample tubes.

After that, Perseverance will travel north, then west, toward the location of its second science campaign: Jezero Crater's delta region. The delta is the fan-shaped remains of the spot where an ancient river met a lake within the crater. The region may be especially rich in clay minerals. On Earth, such minerals can preserve fossilized signs of ancient microscopic life and are often associated with biological processes.

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NASA release
NASA's Perseverance Rover Collects Puzzle Pieces of Mars' History

NASA's Perseverance Mars rover successfully collected its first pair of rock samples, and scientists already are gaining new insights into the region. After collecting its first sample, named "Montdenier," Sept. 6, the team collected a second, "Montagnac," from the same rock Sept. 8.

Above: Two holes are visible in the rock, nicknamed “Rochette,” from which NASA’s Perseverance rover obtained its first core samples. The rover drilled the hole on the left, called “Montagnac,” Sept. 7, and the hole on the right, known as “Montdenier,” Sept. 1. Below it is a round spot the rover abraded. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Analysis of the rocks from which the Montdenier and Montagnac samples were taken and from the rover's previous sampling attempt may help the science team piece together the timeline of the area's past, which was marked by volcanic activity and periods of persistent water.

"It looks like our first rocks reveal a potentially habitable sustained environment," said Ken Farley of Caltech, project scientist for the mission, which is led by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California. "It's a big deal that the water was there a long time."

The rock that provided the mission's first core samples is basaltic in composition and may be the product of lava flows. The presence of crystalline minerals in volcanic rocks is especially helpful in radiometric dating. The volcanic origin of the rock could help scientists accurately date when it formed. Each sample can serve as part of a larger chronological puzzle; put them in the right order, and scientists have a timeline of the most important events in the crater's history. Some of those events include the formation of Jezero Crater, the emergence and disappearance of Jezero's lake, and changes to the planet's climate in the ancient past.

What's more, salts have been spied within these rocks. These salts may have formed when groundwater flowed through and altered the original minerals in the rock, or more likely when liquid water evaporated, leaving the salts. The salt minerals in these first two rock cores may also have trapped tiny bubbles of ancient Martian water. If present, they could serve as microscopic time capsules, offering clues about the ancient climate and habitability of Mars. Salt minerals are also well-known on Earth for their ability to preserve signs of ancient life.

The Perseverance science team already knew a lake once filled the crater; for how long has been more uncertain. The scientists couldn't dismiss the possibility that Jezero's lake was a "flash in the pan": floodwaters could have rapidly filled the impact crater and dried up in the space of 50 years, for example.

But the level of alteration that scientists see in the rock that provided the core samples – as well as in the rock the team targeted on their first sample-acquisition attempt – suggests that groundwater was present for a long time.

This groundwater could have been related to the lake that was once in Jezero, or it could have traveled through the rocks long after the lake had dried up. Though scientists still can't say whether any of the water that altered these rocks was present for tens of thousands or for millions of years, they feel more certain that it was there for long enough to make the area more welcoming to microscopic life in the past.

"These samples have high value for future laboratory analysis back on Earth," said Mitch Schulte of NASA Headquarters, the mission's program scientist. "One day, we may be able to work out the sequence and timing of the environmental conditions that this rock's minerals represent. This will help answer the big-picture science question of the history and stability of liquid water on Mars."

Next Stop, 'South Séítah'

Perseverance is currently searching the crater floor for samples that can be brought back to Earth to answer profound questions about Mars' history. Promising samples are sealed in titanium tubes the rover carries in its chassis, where they'll be stored until Perseverance drops them to be retrieved by a future mission. Perseverance will likely create multiple "depots" later in the mission, where it will drop off samples for a future mission to bring to Earth. Having one or more depots increases the likelihood that especially valuable samples will be accessible for retrieval to Earth.

Perseverance's next likely sample site is just 656 feet (200 meters) away in "South Séítah," a series of ridges covered by sand dunes, boulders, and rock shards that Farley likens to "broken dinner plates."

The rover's recent drill sample represents what is likely one of the youngest rock layers that can be found on Jezero Crater's floor. South Séítah, on the other hand, is likely older, and will provide the science team a better timeline to understand events that shaped the crater floor, including its lake.

By the start of October, all Mars missions will be standing down from commanding their spacecraft for several weeks, a protective measure during a period called Mars solar conjunction. Perseverance isn't likely to drill in South Séítah until sometime after that period.

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NASA release
NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover Makes Surprising Discoveries

Scientists with NASA's Perseverance Mars rover mission have discovered that the bedrock their six-wheeled explorer has been driving on since landing in February likely formed from red-hot magma. The discovery has implications for understanding and accurately dating critical events in the history of Jezero Crater – as well as the rest of the planet.

The team has also concluded that rocks in the crater have interacted with water multiple times over the eons and that some contain organic molecules.

These and other findings were presented today during a news briefing at the American Geophysical Union fall science meeting in New Orleans.

Even before Perseverance touched down on Mars, the mission's science team had wondered about the origin of the rocks in the area. Were they sedimentary – the compressed accumulation of mineral particles possibly carried to the location by an ancient river system? Or where they igneous, possibly born in lava flows rising to the surface from a now long-extinct Martian volcano?

Above: This graphic depicts Perseverance’s entry into “Séítah” from both an orbital and subsurface perspective. The lower image is a subsurface “radargram” from the rover’s RIMFAX instrument; the red lines indicate link subsurface features to erosion-resistant rocky outcrops visible above the surface.

"I was beginning to despair we would never find the answer," said Perseverance Project Scientist Ken Farley of Caltech in Pasadena. "But then our PIXL instrument got a good look at the abraded patch of a rock from the area nicknamed 'South Séítah,' and it all became clear: The crystals within the rock provided the smoking gun."

The drill at the end of Perseverance's robotic arm can abrade, or grind, rock surfaces to allow other instruments, such as PIXL, to study them. Short for Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry, PIXL uses X-ray fluorescence to map the elemental composition of rocks. On Nov. 12, PIXL analyzed a South Séítah rock the science team had chosen to take a core sample from using the rover's drill. The PIXL data showed the rock, nicknamed "Brac," to be composed of an unusual abundance of large olivine crystals engulfed in pyroxene crystals.

"A good geology student will tell you that such a texture indicates the rock formed when crystals grew and settled in a slowly cooling magma – for example a thick lava flow, lava lake, or magma chamber," said Farley. "The rock was then altered by water several times, making it a treasure trove that will allow future scientists to date events in Jezero, better understand the period in which water was more common on its surface, and reveal the early history of the planet. Mars Sample Return is going to have great stuff to choose from!"

The multi-mission Mars Sample Return campaign began with Perseverance, which is collecting Martian rock samples in search of ancient microscopic life. Of Perseverance's 43 sample tubes, six have been sealed to date – four with rock cores, one with Martian atmosphere, and one that contained "witness" material to observe any contamination the rover might have brought from Earth. Mars Sample Return seeks to bring select tubes back to Earth, where generations of scientists will be able to study them with powerful lab equipment far too large to send to Mars.

Still to be determined is whether the olivine-rich rock formed in a thick lava lake cooling on the surface or in a subterranean chamber that was later exposed by erosion.

Organic Molecules

Also great news for Mars Sample Return is the discovery of organic compounds by the SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals) instrument. The carbon-containing molecules are not only in the interiors of abraded rocks SHERLOC analyzed, but in the dust on non-abraded rock.

Confirmation of organics is not a confirmation that life once existed in Jezero and left telltale signs (biosignatures). There are both biological and non-biological mechanisms that create organics.

"Curiosity also discovered organics at its landing site within Gale Crater," said Luther Beegle, SHERLOC principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. "What SHERLOC adds to the story is its capability to map the spatial distribution of organics inside rocks and relate those organics to minerals found there. This helps us understand the environment in which the organics formed. More analysis needs to be done to determine the method of production for the identified organics."

The preservation of organics inside ancient rocks – regardless of origin – at both Gale and Jezero Craters does mean that potential biosignatures (signs of life, whether past or present) could be preserved, too. "This is a question that may not be solved until the samples are returned to Earth, but the preservation of organics is very exciting. When these samples are returned to Earth, they will be a source of scientific inquiry and discovery for many years," Beegle said.

'Radargram'

Along with its rock-core sampling capabilities, Perseverance has brought the first ground-penetrating radar to the surface of Mars. RIMFAX (Radar Imager for Mars' Subsurface Experiment) creates a "radargram" of subsurface features up to about 33 feet (10 meters) deep. Data for this first released radargram was collected as the rover drove across a ridgeline from the "Crater Floor Fractured Rough" geologic unit into the Séítah geologic unit.

The ridgeline has multiple rock formations with a visible downward tilt. With RIMFAX data, Perseverance scientists now know that these angled rock layers continue at the same angle well below the surface. The radargram also shows the Séítah rock layers project below those of Crater Floor Fractured Rough. The results further confirm the science team's belief that the creation of Séítah preceded Crater Floor Fractured Rough. The ability to observe geologic features even below the surface adds a new dimension to the team's geologic mapping capabilities at Mars.

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NASA release by Louise Jandura, Chief Engineer for Sampling & Caching
Assessing Perseverance's Seventh Sample Collection

On Wednesday, Dec. 29 (sol 306) Perseverance successfully cored and extracted a sample from a Mars rock. Data downlinked after the sampling indicates that coring of the rock the science team nicknamed Issole went smoothly. However, during the transfer of the bit that contains the sample into the rover's bit carousel (which stores bits and passes tubes to the tube processing hardware inside the rover), our sensors indicated an anomaly. The rover did as it was designed to do - halting the caching procedure and calling home for further instructions.

Above: Pebble-sized debris can be seen in the bit carousel of NASA's Perseverance Mars rover in this Jan. 7, 2022, image. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

This is only the 6th time in human history a sample has been cored from a rock on a planet other than Earth, so when we see something anomalous going on, we take it slow. Here is what we know so far, and what we are doing about it.

The anomaly occurred during "Coring Bit Dropoff." It's when the drill bit, with its sample tube and just-cored sample nestled inside, is guided out of the percussive drill (at the end of the robotic arm) and into the bit carousel (which is located on the rover's chassis). During processing of previous cored rock samples, the coring bit travelled 5.15 inches (13.1 centimeters) before sensors began to record the kind of resistance (drag) expected at first contact with the carousel structure. However, this time around the sensor recorded higher resistance than usual at about 0.4 inches (1 centimeter) earlier than expected, and some much higher resistance than expected during the operation.

The team requested additional data and imagery to ensure proper understanding of the state post anomaly. Because we are presently operating through a set of "restricted Sols" in which the latency of the data restricts the type of activities we can perform on Mars, it has taken about a week to receive the additional diagnostic data needed to understand this anomaly.

Above: This image shows the cored-rock sample remaining in the sample tube after the drill bit was extracted from Perseverance's bit carousel on Jan. 7, 2022. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Armed with that data set, we sent up a command to extract the drill bit and sample-filled tube from the bit carousel and undock the robotic arm from the bit carousel. During these activities, a series of hardware images were acquired.

The extraction took place yesterday (1/6) and data was downlinked early this morning. These most recent downlinked images confirm that inside the bit carousel there are a few pieces of pebble-sized debris. The team is confident that these are fragments of the cored rock that fell out of the sample tube at the time of Coring Bit Dropoff, and that they prevented the bit from seating completely in the bit carousel.

The designers of the bit carousel did take into consideration the ability to continue to successfully operate with debris. However, this is the first time we are doing a debris removal and we want to take whatever time is necessary to ensure these pebbles exit in a controlled and orderly fashion. We are going to continue to evaluate our data sets over the weekend.

This is not the first curve Mars has thrown at us – just the latest. One thing we've found is that when the engineering challenge is hundreds of millions of miles away (Mars is currently 215 million miles from Earth), it pays to take your time and be thorough. We are going to do that here. So that when we do hit the un-paved Martian road again, Perseverance sample collection is also ready to roll.

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NASA release
NASA's Perseverance Celebrates First Year on Mars by Learning to Run

NASA's Perseverance rover has notched up a slew of firsts since touching down on Mars one year ago, on Feb. 18, 2021, and the six-wheeled scientist has other important accomplishments in store as it speeds toward its new destination and a new science campaign.

Weighing roughly 1 ton (1,025 kilograms), Perseverance is the heaviest rover ever to touch down on Mars, returning dramatic video of its landing. The rover collected the first rock core samples from another planet (it's carrying six so far), served as an indispensable base station for Ingenuity, the first helicopter on Mars, and tested MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment), the first prototype oxygen generator on the Red Planet.

Perseverance also recently broke a record for the most distance driven by a Mars rover in a single day, traveling almost 1,050 feet (320 meters) on Feb. 14, 2022, the 351st Martian day, or sol, of the mission. And it performed the entire drive using AutoNav, the self-driving software that allows Perseverance to find its own path around rocks and other obstacles.

Above: Perseverance snapped this view of a hill called "Santa Cruz" on April 29, 2021. About 20 inches (50 centimeters) across on average, the boulders in the foreground are among the type of rocks the rover team has named "Ch'ał" (the Navajo term for "frog" and pronounced "chesh"). Perseverance will return to the area next week or so. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS)

The rover has nearly wrapped up its first science campaign in Jezero Crater, a location that contained a lake billions of years ago and features some of the oldest rocks Mars scientists have been able to study up close. Rocks that have recorded and preserved environments that once hosted water are prime locations to search for signs of ancient microscopic life.

Using a drill on the end of its robotic arm and a complex sample collection system in its belly, Perseverance is snagging rock cores from the crater floor – the first step in the Mars Sample Return campaign.

"The samples Perseverance has been collecting will provide a key chronology for the formation of Jezero Crater," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "Each one is carefully considered for its scientific value."

Counting the Eons

Two more samples will be collected in coming weeks from the "Ch'ał" rock type (named with the Navajo term for "frog"), a set of dark, rubbly rocks representative of what's seen across much of the crater floor. If samples of these rocks are returned to Earth, scientists think they could provide an age range for Jezero's formation and the lake that once resided there.

Scientists can approximate the age of a planet or moon's surface by counting its impact craters. Older surfaces have had more time to accumulate impact craters of various sizes. In the case of the Moon, scientists were able to refine their estimates by analyzing Apollo lunar samples. They've taken those lessons to narrow down the age estimates of surfaces on Mars. But having rock samples from the Red Planet would improve crater-based estimates of how old the surface is – and help them find more pieces of the puzzle that is Mars' geological history.

"Right now, we take what we know about the age of impact craters on the Moon and extrapolate that to Mars," said Katie Stack Morgan, Perseverance's deputy project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which manages the rover mission. "Bringing back a sample from this heavily cratered surface in Jezero could provide a tie-point to calibrate the Mars crater dating system independently, instead of relying solely on the lunar one."

The mission hasn't been without challenges. The rover's first attempt at drilling a rock core came up empty, prompting an extensive testing campaign to better understand fragile rocks. The team also needed to clear out pebbles that had dropped into the part of the sampling system that holds the drill bits.

Perseverance's airborne companion, NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, has proven similarly plucky: It was grounded for almost a month following a dust storm before recently resuming its flights. Originally slated to fly five times, the rotorcraft has successfully completed 19 flights now, providing a new perspective of Martian terrain and helping Perseverance's team to plan the path ahead.

To the west of "Octavia E. Butler Landing," where Perseverance started its journey, are the remains of a fan-shaped delta formed by an ancient river as it fed the lake in Jezero Crater. Deltas accumulate sediment over time, potentially trapping organic matter and possible biosignatures – signs of life – that may be in the environment. That makes this destination, which the mission expects to reach this summer, a highlight of the year to come.


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