In an effort to get rocks and soil samples from Mars back to Earth, NASA is sending two additional miniature helicopters into Mars orbit. According to the Wednesday-announced plan, Perseverance rover will serve a dual purpose and deliver the cache to the rocket that will carry them off the red planet in ten years.
11 samples have already been collected by perseverance, and additional rock drilling is scheduled. Meenakshi Wadhwa, head scientist for the recovery mission at Arizona State University, claimed that the most recent sample, a sedimentary rock, had the best chance of holding potential proof of ancient Martian life. She remarked that she was “very enthusiastic about the possibilities for bringing things back” and that there were “a range of materials already in the bag, so to speak.” If Perseverance fails, the samples would be loaded onto the rocket using the two helicopters that are being developed and launched later this decade.
The alternative course of action, according to Jeff Gramling, head of NASA Mars sample return programme, is easier. One sample tube at a time will be lifted by each helicopter, which will make several back and forth journeys. Gramling said, “We have faith that Perseverance will get the samples home, and we’ve added the helicopters as a backup means. At NASA headquarters in Washington, Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for science, said: “Every aspect of a mission plan is examined in detail during the conceptual design stage. The strategy has undergone certain important and useful revisions that are directly related to Perseverance’s recent achievements at Jezero and our Mars helicopter’s outstanding performance.”