Neither dust, nor wind, nor the darkness of night will disturb the new hoard of precious Mars samples on the Red Planet.
This month, NASA’s Perseverance rover is dropping a lighthouse-sized cache of material on the surface of Mars to lie in wait as a backup for future sample-return missions. Perseverance collects two samples at each location and takes one set with it. If the rover cannot transport the samples in its belly to a waiting spacecraft, two helicopters will instead carry backup surface tubes to a return rocket in 2030.
The epic NASA-European joint mission will allow researchers on Earth to examine tubed samples for signs of life. Noting that the embryonic mission is not expected to land until the 2030s, however, officials at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said on Twitter that they have not heard about wind or dust damaging the tubes or making it difficult to recover the cache. I have heard the public concerns.
“My Team Isn’t Worried,” Official Persistence Account Tweeted (opens in new tab) 23, with an array of evidence showing why the tubes won’t go away — and how NASA is tracking their deposit locations as a last backup.
related: 12 Amazing Photos From the Perseverance Rover’s First Year on Mars
Unlike the fictional, powerful wind storm depicted at the beginning of “The Martian” (2015), the Red Planet has gentle gusts. Due to its thin atmosphere at only one-hundredth of Earth’s pressure at sea level, Mars’ wind is largely limited to carrying fine sand grains.
The Perseverance account tweeted, “Winds can move *speed* around here, but they don’t move much *stuff*. In practice, winds are not a threat to nuclear-powered missions like Perseverance. For example The NASA Curiosity rover is still operating after 10 Earth years on Mars with a thin layer of dust covering the machinery, the account noted.
That said, dust coverage on solar panels (such as NASA’s recently concluded InSight Mars lander mission) could pose a long-term threat to exploration, as they slowly shut down the solar power supply A lucky stroke of. “This spells the final end of more than one solar-powered explorer,” noted the dusty Twitter thread.
related: Can We Save Mars Robots from Death by Dust?
What about something smaller sitting low to the surface? See this ribbon cable leading up to @NASAInSight’s seismometer? Four years later: A thin layer of dust, but easily visible. (The pile of dirt you see on one side of it is only because InSight intentionally put it there.) pic.twitter.com/UdpHVY18eADecember 23, 2022
Even for those tubes that are low on the surface, NASA expects them to be “easy to spot” based on examples such as the old footage from InSight. After four Earth years lying on the Red Planet’s ground, InSight’s cables were admittedly dusty, but still recognizable.
“Not only do we expect the sample tubes not to be covered,” the Perseverance account tweeted along with a map, “but I am also very carefully documenting where I placed them. So check back later Shouldn’t go back to them.” be an issue.”
The backup mission is currently expected to arrive in nine years, or around 2031. Launch opportunities between Earth and Mars arise roughly every two years, providing several opportunities to send a mission there before 2040—assuming funding is available for a sample return mission and technology development plans are in place. Goes ahead.
Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of “why am i tall (opens in new tab)?” (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow him on Twitter @howlspace (opens in new tab), Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) Or Facebook (opens in new tab),