The six-wheeled scientist is heading south to explore the Jezero Crater’s soaked in search of signs of ancient microbial life.
On June 1, NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover began the scientific phase of its mission by leaving the “Octavia E. Butler” landing site. Until recently, the rover has undergone system testing or commissioning and supported Ingenuity Mars Helicopter flight tests.
During the first few weeks of this first science campaign, the mission team drives to a low-lying scenic view from which the rover can explore some of the oldest geological features of the Jezero Crater, and they bring online the ultimate possibilities in the rover’s automatic navigation and sampling systems.
By the time Perseverance completed its commissioning phase on June 1, the rover had already tested its oxygen-generating MOXIE instrument and completed the technology demonstration flights in the Ingenuity helicopter. Its cameras had taken more than 75,000 pictures, and its microphones had recorded Mars’ first soundtrack.
“We put the rover’s commissioning phase as well as the landing site in our rearview mirror and hit the road,” said Jennifer Trosper, project manager for endurance at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “Over the next few months, endurance will explore a 1.5 square kilometer [4-square-kilometer] crater floor plaster. It is from this place that the first samples from another planet will be collected to return to Earth at a future mission. ”
The scientific goal of the mission is to study the Jezero region to understand the geology and past habitat of the environment in the area and to search for evidence of ancient microscopic life. The team will identify and collect the most compelling rock and sediment samples that a future mission can pick up and bring back to Earth for more detailed study. Endurance will also take measurements and test technologies to support future human and robotic exploration of Mars.
This first science campaign, spanning hundreds of suns (or marching days), will pursue all of the mission’s scientific goals as the rover explores two unique geological units where Jezero’s deepest (and oldest) layers of exposed bedrock and other exciting geological features may have been found. The first unit, called “Crater Floor Fractured Rough”, is the crater-filled floor in Jezero. The adjacent unit, named “Séítah” (meaning “in the middle of the sand” in the Navajo language), has its fair share of the Mars bedrock, but is also home to ridges, stratified rocks and dunes.
“To do justice to both units within the allotted time, the team came up with the Mars version of an old club-club-style map,” said JPL’s Kevin Hand, an astrobiologist and co-lead, along with Vivian Sun, about this science. campaign. “We have planned our route complete with optional interruptions and marked areas of interest and potential obstacles on our way.”
Most of the challenges along the way are expected to come in the form of dunes located in the mitten-shaped Séítah unit. To negotiate them, the rover team decided that endurance mostly runs either on the Crater Floor Fractured Rough or along the boundary line between it and Séítah. When the occasion calls for it, perseverance performs a “toe-dip” in the Séítah unit, creating a line to a specific area of interest.
The goal of the campaign is to determine which four locations in these units best tell the story of Jezero Crater’s early environment and geological history. When the science team decides that a place is just right, they collect one or two samples.
“Starting with the Crater Floor Fractured Rough and Seitah geological units, we can start our exploration of Jezero right from the start,” said Hand. “This area was under at least 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. ”
The first science campaign is over when the rover returns to its landing site. By this time, endurance would have traveled between 2.5 and 5 kilometers (1.6 and 3.1 miles), and up to eight of the endurance’s 43 test tubes could be filled with Mars rock and regolith (broken rock and dust). Next, endurance will travel north and then west toward the location of its second science campaign: the Jezero Delta region. The delta is the fan-shaped remnants of the confluence of an ancient river and a lake within the Jezero crater. The location may be particularly rich in carbonates – minerals that on earth can retain petrified signs of ancient life and may be associated with biological processes.
The start of Perseverance’s first science campaign also marks a transition for the team: On June 7, Jennifer Trosper became the mission’s new project manager. She succeeds Matt Wallace, who goes on to become JPL’s Deputy Director of Planetary Science.
“From residence to spirit and the possibility of curiosity to perseverance, Matt has played key roles in the design, construction and operation of any Mars rover that NASA has ever built,” said Trosper. “And while the project loses a great leader and a trusted friend, we know Matt will continue to make great things happen for the planetary scientific community.”
More about the mission
A key goal of Perseverance’s mission to Mars is astrobiology, including the search for evidence of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the red planet and be the first mission to collect and cache martian rock and regolith.
Subsequent NASA missions, in collaboration with ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.
The Mars 2020 endurance mission is part of NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the red planet.
JPL, which is managed by NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages operations of Perseverance Rover.
For more on endurance:
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