Getting This Package Delivered Is Complicated

Core Sample Tube
Core Sample Inside Tube | Photo by

With all of the supply chain problems the world is having, largely due to the pandemic, trying to get things from one place to another has been a nightmare. It’s already been announced that people need to do their Christmas shopping now because they probably won’t be able to buy what they want due to empty store shelves at the time they usually do their Christmas shopping. That goes for the online shopping too. The warehouse stock may very well be seriously depleted very soon and delivery of your packages could end up being well after Christmas. Nobody will guarantee delivery by Christmas like they used to do.

It won’t be FedX or UPS or the U.S. Post office delivering a special package from outer space back to earth. It’s going to take a lot of work and cooperation to get the rock core samples that are being collected during this current Mars mission safely to Earth so the samples can be examined with the scientific equipment necessary to properly analyze the samples. The European Space agency is partnering with NASA to develop the transportation necessary to bring the Martian rock samples to Earth. Let’s take a look back at information from a previous column article.First we talk about the rocks the samples come from.

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.

In an October 12th article written by Lonnie Shekhtman from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center the journey to develop the way these samples will be returned to Earth is feverishly being worked out. The article published in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory website quotes Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program “Returning a sample from Mars has been a priority for the planetary science community since the 1980s, and the potential opportunity to finally realize this goal has unleashed a torrent of creativity.”

Michael Meyer NASA Lead Scientist For Mars Exploration | Photo by Mars Society

The article went on to quote Meenakshi Wadhwa, Principle scientist for the Mars Sample Return Program that is managed by NASA’s JPL in Southern California ” I have dreamed of having Mars samples to analyze since I was a graduate student. The collection of these well-documented samples will eventually allow us to analyze them in the best laboratories here on earth once they are returned.”

Meenakshi Wadhwa, Principle Scientist for the Mars Sample Return Program | Photo by

There are many more samples to be collected and the Mars Perseverance Rover with location scouting being done by the Ingenuity helicopter will continue finding more rocks the fit the profile and drill out core samples.

Collection Route
Rover Sample Collection Route | Images by

The samples will be stored in one main area to be retrieved and returned to Earth by the retrieval mission that is still in the planning stage. When the plan is finalized we’ll take a look at what it will entail.

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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