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The NASA Perseverance Mars Rover Will Be The First to Collect a Sample.

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NASA is finalizing plans for its Perseverance Mars rover to harvest the first-ever sample of Martian rock, which will be transported to Earth by future missions. In a section of Jezero Crater known as the "Cratered Floor Fractured Rough," the six-wheeled geologist is looking for a scientifically interesting target.

Within the next two weeks, this critical mission milestone is planned to commence. Perseverance landed in Jezero Crater on February 18 and NASA began the science portion of the mission on June 1, examining a 1.5-square-mile (4-square-kilometre) section of crater floor that may contain Jezero's deepest and most ancient layers of exposed bedrock.

“Neil Armstrong began a process that would redefine what humankind knew about the Moon 52 years ago when he took the first sample from the Sea of Tranquility,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters. “I am confident that Perseverance's initial sample from Jezero Crater, as well as subsequent samples, will accomplish the same for Mars. 

We're on the verge of a new era in planetary science and exploration.”

Armstrong collected the first Moon sample in 3 minutes and 35 seconds. Perseverance will take roughly 11 days to perform its initial sampling since it must receive instructions from hundreds of millions of miles away while relying on the Sampling and Caching System, the most complicated and capable, as well as the cleanest, system ever deployed into space.

The rover starts the sample phase by putting everything it needs within reach of its 7-foot (2-meter) long robotic arm. It will next conduct an imagery survey to allow NASA's science team to pinpoint the exact spot for the first sample, as well as a second target site in the same area for "proximity science."

“The objective is to collect valuable data on the rock we're going to sample by discovering its geologic twin and undertaking extensive in-situ analysis,” said Vivian Sun of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, who is also the scientific campaign's co-lead. 

“On the geologic double, we scrape off the top layers of rock and dust with an abrading bit to expose fresh, unweathered surfaces, clean it with our Gas Dust Removal Tool, and then get up and personal with our turret-mounted proximity scientific instruments SHERLOC, PIXL, and WATSON.”

Mineral and chemical analysis of the abraded target will be provided by the SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals), PIXL (Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry), and WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering) cameras. 

Perseverance's SuperCam and Mastcam-Z equipment, which are both mounted on the rover's mast, will also be used. 

Mastcam-Z will record high-resolution imagery while SuperCam shoots its laser at the abraded surface, spectroscopically characterizing the resultant plume and gathering other data.

These five devices, when used together, will allow for unprecedented geological material examination on the job site.

“After we finish our pre-coring science, we'll limit rover tasks to a sol, or a Martian day,” Sun added. 

“This will allow the rover to fully charge its battery in preparation for the next day's events.”

The sample-handling arm of the Adaptive Caching Assembly starts the sampling day by retrieving a sample tube, heating it, and then placing it into a coring bit. 

The tube and bit are transported to Perseverance's robotic arm's rotary-percussive drill, which will drill the unaltered geologic "twin" of the rock investigated the previous sol, filling the tube with a core sample roughly the size of a piece of chalk.

The bit-and-tube combination will then be transferred back into the Adaptive Caching Assembly by Perseverance's arm, where the sample will be measured for volume, photographed, hermetically sealed, and stored. 

The sample tube contents will be viewed again at a cleanroom facility on Earth, where they will be analyzed using scientific instruments far too massive to send to Mars.

“Not every sample collected by Perseverance will be used in the search for ancient life, and we don't expect this initial sample to provide definitive confirmation one way or the other,” said Caltech's Ken Farley, a Perseverance project scientist. 

“While the rocks in this geologic unit aren't terrific time capsules for organics, we believe they've been around since the formation of Jezero Crater and are extremely helpful in filling gaps in our geology understanding of this region — information we'll need to know if we find life on Mars.”

Astrobiology, especially the search for traces of ancient microbial life, is a significant goal for Perseverance's mission on Mars. 

The rover will study the planet's geology and climate history, lay the route for human exploration of Mars, and be the first mission to gather and cache Martian rock and regolith.

NASA's Mars Sample Return Campaign begins with the Mars 2020 Perseverance mission. Following NASA missions, which are now being developed in collaboration with the European Space Agency, spacecraft would be sent to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for further research.

The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA's Moon to Mars exploration strategy, which includes Artemis lunar missions to help prepare for human exploration of Mars.

Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages JPL for NASA.