Neither dust, nor wind, nor the darkness of the night will disturb the new caches of precious Martian samples on the Red Planet.
This month, NASA’s Perseverance rover dropped caches of lightsaber-shaped material onto the Martian surface to wait as backup for a future sample return mission. Perseverance collects two samples from each location and carries one set with him. If the rover fails to deliver the samples in its belly to the waiting spacecraft, two delivery helicopters will instead deliver spare ground tubes to the reentry rocket in the 2030s.
An epic joint NASA-Europe mission will allow researchers on Earth to scrutinize tube samples for signs of life. However, given that the retrieval mission is not due to land until the 2030s, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory officials said on Twitter that they have heard public concern that wind or dust is damaging pipes or making retrieval of caches difficult.
“My team is not worried,” the official Perseverance Twitter account tweeted. (will open in a new tab) December 23rd, along with a series of testimonies showing why the pipes don’t fly far—and how NASA is tracking their burial sites as the ultimate backup.
On the subject: 12 amazing photos of the first year of the Perseverance rover on Mars
Unlike the fictional powerful hurricane depicted at the beginning of The Martian (2015), the Red Planet has a bland taste. Because of the thin atmosphere, which is only one-hundredth of Earth’s pressure at sea level, the Martian wind is mostly limited to picking up fine grains of sand.
“The winds here can pick up *speed*, but they don’t pick up a lot of *things*. Think fast, but not hard,” Perseverance tweeted. From a practical standpoint, winds do not pose a threat to nuclear missions such as Perseverance. For example, NASA’s Curiosity rover is still running after 10 Earth years on Mars, with only a thin layer of dust covering its mechanisms, the report notes.
However, dust on solar panels (such as the recently completed InSight Mars landing mission) can pose a long-term threat to research as they slowly cut off the solar power supply – in the absence of a lucky gust of wind. “This meant the final end of more than one solar-powered explorer,” the dust tweeted.
On the subject: Can we save Martian robots from death from dust?
What about something smaller sitting low on the surface? See this ribbon cable leading to the @NASAInSight seismometer? Four years later: a thin layer of dust, but easy to see. (The pile of dirt you see above part of it only exists because InSight intentionally put it there.) pic.twitter.com/UdpHVY18eADDecember 23, 2022
NASA expects that even for tubes that lie low on the surface, they will be “easy to spot” based on examples such as old InSight footage. After four Earth years on the ground of the Red Planet, the cables from InSight were admittedly dusty, but still recognizable.
“Not only do we expect the sample tubes to be uncovered,” the Perseverance account wrote along with the map, “but I also document very carefully where exactly I put them. So don’t go back to them later. be a problem.”
The standby mission is currently expected to arrive in nine years, or around 2031. Launch opportunities between Earth and Mars appear about every two years, giving several chances to send a mission there before 2040 — as long as funding for the sample return mission is maintained and technology development goes according to plan.
Elizabeth Howell is co-author of Why Am I Taller? (will open in a new tab)? (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), space medicine book. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace. (will open in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (will open in a new tab) or facebook (will open in a new tab).