NASAs Endurance Rover has started its highly anticipated science campaign with a Red Planet road trip.
Endurance by car landed inside Mars’ 45-kilometer (45-kilometer) Jezero crater on 18 February. The six-wheeled robot’s first few months on the red planet were primarily dedicated to performing health and instrument checks and documenting groundbreaking NASA flights. Invention helicopter, who traveled to Mars on the belly of endurance.
But endurance and its systems are now pretty much up to speed, and ingenuity has wrapped up its technology-demonstrating flight campaign and moved on to an expanded mission that requires less support and oversight. So the rover has begun to sink its teeth into its own scientific mission that focuses on searching for signs of the ancient March life and collecting samples for future return to Earth.
The shift began on June 1 as endurance rolled away from its touch zone.
“We put the rover’s commissioning phase as well as the landing site in our rearview mirror and hit the road,” Jennifer Trosper, the new Perseverance project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California, said in a statement. (Trosper, former deputy project manager for endurance, took up the new job this week after former mission project manager Matt Wallace went on to become JPL’s deputy executive director for planetary science.)
“Over the next few months, endurance will explore a 1.5 square kilometer [4-square-kilometer] crater floor plaster, “said Trosper. It is from this place that the first samples from another planet will be collected to return to Earth at a future mission. “
Endurance will explore two different geological units within this patch – “Crater Floor Fractured Rough”, which contains a lot of old, exposed bedrock and “Séítah”, which also has bedrock but also boasts ridges and dunes, among other features. (Séítah means “in the middle of the sand” in the Navajo language, Said NASA officials.)
“To do justice to both entities within the allotted time, the team came up with the Mars version of an old club-club-style map,” said astrobiologist Kevin Hand, co-leader of this science campaign, along with JPL scientist Vivian Sun . in the same statement. “We have planned our route complete with optional interruptions and marked areas of interest and potential obstacles on our way.”
If all goes according to plan, Perseverance will collect and store one or two samples from each of four locations within the two units – spots that the team best captures the history and evolution of Jezero, which hosted a large lake and a river delta long ago.
“Starting with the crater floor Fractured Rough and Séítah geological units allows us to start our exploration of Jezero right from the start,” said Hand. “This area was below 100 meters [328 feet] water 3.8 billion years ago. We do not know what stories rocks and layered protrusions will tell us, but we are happy to get started. “
After wrapping up on Crater Floor Fractured Rough and Séítah, Perseverance returns to the landing site, as the mission team is named after the famous sci-fi writer Octavia E. Butler. The nuclear-powered rover will then roll north and west toward the site of its second science campaign – the Jezeros delta.
Here on Earth, deltas are good at maintaining organic connections and signs of life, so the mission team is eager to see what Jezero’s ancient river deposits hold.
The endurance mission is scheduled to last at least one Mars year, which is about 687 Earth days. But the robot could continue to prey much longer if precedent is any guide. Endurance is heavily modeled after NASAs Curiosity rover, which continues to explore Mars’ Gale Crater today, almost nine years after touching in August 2012.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out there“(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.