It’s been a busy week on Mars, with the arrival of China’s Zhurong rover and it sending its first images back to Earth. And elsewhere, in a different area of the planet, the helicopter Ingenuity is preparing for its sixth flight which aims to be further and faster than its previous trips. But don’t forget about NASA’s two rovers, Perseverance and Curiosity, which are also trundling along doing science work on the red planet.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory recently shared an update on what the rovers have been up to, including the plans for the next phase of the Perseverance mission.
With the helicopter Ingenuity off exploring on its own, the Perseverance rover has been freed up to perform observations of the martian rock. It recently used its robotic arm to get up close and personal with the Martian surface, and now it has moved onto the collection of samples. This is one of Perseverance’s major goals: To collect samples of Martian rocks and regolith, which will be picked up and returned to Earth in a future mission called Mars Sample Return. Getting these samples back to Earth is necessary so they can be analyzed in more detail than is possible using the limited instruments available on a rover.
The rover is armed with a special system of tubes for the collection of samples, but this is the first time such a system has been used. So it needs to be tested before it can be used, and that’s what Perseverance is gearing up for.
“In order to ensure that we are ready for this first one of a kind leg of collecting samples and preparing them to bring them back to earth we need to ensure that we can safely place and load the robotic arm on the surface of Mars,” explained Perseverance Surface Mission Manager Jessica Samuels. “So we first did this by loading the core drill and pushing against the Rover itself… The next day we successfully demonstrated the capability of placing the core on the surface of Mars.”
In addition, JPL shared that Perseverance has been traveling around the planet and has driven 345 meters so far. Samuels said there would be more traversing in the rover’s future: “Over the next couple of weeks we hope to continue to check out more of our autonomous navigation capabilities and are excited about the hundreds and hundreds of meters ahead.”