Another recollection from my youth has relevance in today’s world. For quite some time I was really fascinated with collecting various kinds rocks and fossils. We had a family friend who was a school teacher who took me out to an old dried up riverbed outside of Rochester, New York. It was a goldmine for finding petrified rocks and trilobites. Later on our son became interested in the same hobby and he collected a box full of them that he kept no matter where we moved over the years. (See sample below.)
Collecting rock and soil samples here on earth is rather easy. You just have to know where to look and have at least a little understanding of what you can find. Sample collecting on another planet or heavenly body is a different thing altogether. The rock samples from the Moon were collected by astronauts who were actually on the Moon’s surface and physically picked them up.
Our Mars Perseverance Rover will be collecting soil, rock and mineral samples on the Red Planet soon, but it won’t be a simple task. The scientists had to figure out the best locations in which to find the samples they wanted and the engineers had to find a way to actually collect and store the samples so they could be properly examined.
It’s called the Sample Caching System. The system is comprised of some 3,000 parts. Perseverance is a step above any other rover that is now in space. It is actually three robots. Quoting from the chief engineer for the Mars rover mission Adam Seltzner on NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) website “For us to collect the first samples of mars for return to Earth, in place of two astronauts [as with the Moon landings] we have three robots that have to work with the precision of a Swiss watch.”
The first of the three robotic systems is the seven-foot-long five-jointed robotic arm located on the front of the rover’s chassis. The “bit carousel” is the second system. Shaped like a flying saucer it will provide the drill and the sample tubes and even move the tubes to the rover’s chassis for processing. The third part is the Sample Caching System which is a foot-and-a-half long arm that will handle the samples by moving them between storage and documentation stations and the bit carousel.
Quoting Adam Seltzner again “It sounds like a lot, but you begin to realize the need for complexity when you consider the Sample Caching System is tasked with autonomously drilling into Mars rock, pulling out intact core samples, and then sealing them hermetically in hyper-sterile vessels, that are essentially free of any Earth-originating organic material that could get in the way of future analysis. In terms of technology, it is the most complicated, most sophisticated mechanism that we have ever built, tested and readied for spaceflight. ”
They have chosen the first site for the Perseverance Rover to begin its task and have even planned for extended trips to collect samples from different locations over time. The samples will be stored in one main area to be retrieved and returned to Earth by another mission at a later date.
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