Perseverance has been collecting pieces of rock since its arrival on Mars. Stored in titanium tubes, they will be voluntarily released into nature. NASA has just confirmed that the first “sample deposit” would be formed around “Three Forks”, a plain on the red planet.
10 tubes will be dropped on Martian soil over the next month. They will stay there for years. In 2030, the MSR (Mars Simple Return) mission led by NASA and the ESA (European Space Agency) should collect these samples to bring them back to Earth.
This mission should allow the best terrestrial laboratories to study the Martian rock, in particular that of the Jezero crater where Perseverance is located. NASA suspects this area to be an ancient lake. Millions of years ago it would have harbored life.
A return mission in 2030
Despite the technological power of current rovers like Perseverance, it is impossible to embed entire laboratories in the robot. To conduct the most precise experiments possible, NASA must therefore bring pieces of Martian rock back to Earth in order to study them.
The ground study of lunar rocks in the 1970s had made it possible to learn much more about our satellite. NASA now hopes the same will happen with Mars. On the ground of the Red Planet, the Perseverance rover will now have to tread carefully.
It will be necessary to deposit the small titanium tubes, only about ten centimeters large, with great precision. The Earth return mission won’t arrive until 2030. By then, the tubes may be covered in Martian dust. During the next decade, the MSR mission will consist of a Martian warner, ready to return to Earth.
NASA is already planning a plan B
Two small helicopters designed on the plans of Ingenuity should take care of the logistics once there. Their mission will be to recover the 10 Martian rock tubes before bringing them back to the mother ship. NASA, cautious, has a plan B.
The 10 tubes deposited by Perseverance on the surface all have a “double” extracted from the soil of the red planet under the same conditions. They will remain in the “belly” of the Perseverance rover. NASA hopes that he will still be active in 2030, he will be able to join MSR and hand-deliver his samples.
Analysis of these pieces of rock and dust should allow NASA to find traces of microbial life. Such a discovery would call into question all our knowledge of the Universe.