Collecting Rock Samples On Mars Isn’t Easy

Core Sample Tube
Core Sample Inside Tube | Photo by

Another historic accomplishment for the Perseverance Rover on the planet Mars. The first attempt to collect a rock sample on August 5th failed when the rock crumbled during the coring process. The experts say that there are two kinds of what they call “paver stones” that are littered over the Jezero Crater. They particularly looked at two types of paver stones. One is a light colored stone they call a “whaleback” and the second is a more orange colored “whaleback.” The second type is the one they chose for the first coring that failed.

“Whaleback” Paver With Core Sample Bore Hole | Photo by

They chose one of the orange colored pavers for the second coring and that was successful. The rock didn’t crumble and instead the sample stayed in the tube.

Core Sample Inside Sample Tube | Photo by

They had Perseverance take a picture of the tube showing some of the sample inside which proved the coring was a success. You have to remember that all of the work performed by the Perseverance Rover cannot be done with a simple joystick. The technicians here on Earth have to write a computer program that will tell Perseverance what to do and how to do it. That program is then uploaded to the Rover and then it autonomously performs the movements needed to do the drilling and sample collection.

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.

Here is a review showing how the sampling process works. Our Mars Perseverance Rover is collecting soil, rock and mineral samples on the Red Planet, but it isn’t 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.

Drilling Rocks
Tool For Collecting Rock Samples | Photo by

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.”

Sample Caching System Test
Testing The Perseverance Sample Caching System | Photo by

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 provides 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 handles the samples by moving them between storage and documentation stations and the bit carousel.

Sample Tube Container
Storage Container For Sample Tubes | Photo by

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.

Collection Route
Rover Sample Collection Route | Images by

They have chose 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.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].

Tim Chuey is a Member of the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association and has been Awarded Seals of Approval for television weathercasting from both organizations.

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