OPTIMISM Sticks the Landing
Engineers react with surprise while testing how NASA's Perseverance rover will deposit its sample tubes on the Martian surface. Less than 5% of the time, a flat end on the sample tube caused it to land straight up after dropping. This test was conducted using OPTIMISM, a full-scale replica of Perseverance, in the Mars Yard at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
Perseverance has been taking duplicate samples from each rock target the mission selects. After depositing one sample on the surface Dec. 21, 2022, the rover has 17 samples in its belly, including one atmospheric sample. Based on the architecture of the Mars Sample Return campaign, the rover would deliver samples to a robotic lander carrying a small rocket that would blast them off to space.
The depot will serve as a backup if Perseverance can't deliver its samples. In that case, a pair of Sample Recovery Helicopters would be called upon to pick up the sample tubes and deliver them to the lander.
A key objective for Perseverance's mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs 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 (broken rock and dust).
Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation 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 Perseverance 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 for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages operations of the Perseverance rover.
For more about Perseverance: mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/