NASA’s Perseverance rover has been on the surface of Mars since February of 2021, joining NASA’s Curiosity rover, which has been studying the Red Planet since 2012.
Perseverance is now beginning to ramp up its science mission on Mars while preparing to collect samples that will be returned to Earth on a future mission.
Curiosity is ready to explore some new Martian terrain.
This video provides a mission update from Perseverance Surface Mission Manager Jessica Samuels and Curiosity Deputy Project Scientist Abigail Fraeman.
Raquel Villanueva: To get the latest updates on the rovers, we are joined by Perseverance Surface Mission Manager, Jessica Samuels, and Curiosity Deputy Project Scientist Abigail Fraeman. Now Jessica, Perseverance has spent the last month supporting ingenuity helicopter operations.
But now it’s moving into a new phase.
Can you tell us about that?
Jessica Samuels: Right. So with this recent fifth helicopter flight we’re transitioning from the technology demonstration phase to more of an operations demonstration phase as we now turn our attention more towards the robotic arm science-based portion of the mission, and as we prepare for the sample acquisition phase of the project.
This past week, we completed our first close-up robotic arm science target observation by the Sherlock Instrument.
And as you can see here, the Watson side of that instrument was placed at different positions getting closer and closer and closer to the surface and finishing at a mere 3.7 millimeters from the surface.
Raquel Villanueva: And Perseverance is preparing to collect samples from Mars to bring back to earth.
How are those preparations going?
Jessica Samuels: Right, well, in order to ensure that we are ready for this first one of a kind leg of collecting samples and preparing them to bring them back to earth we need to ensure that we can safely place and load the robotic arm on the surface of Mars. So we first did this by loading the core drill and pushing against the Rover itself.
As you can see here in this image.
The next day we successfully demonstrated the capability of placing the core on the surface of Mars.
Raquel Villanueva: And perseverance has been on the move. How far has the Rover driven?
Jessica Samuels: Perseverance has driven 345 meters so far. Over the next couple of weeks.
We hope to continue to check out more of our autonomous navigation capabilities and are excited about the hundreds and hundreds of meters ahead.
Raquel Villanueva: Thank you for that update, Jessica. Now we’ll turn to Abigail.
Perseverance is the new Rover in town but Curiosity is still doing science in Gale crater.
What are some of the big stories coming from Curiosity and your team?
Abigail Fraeman: Well, Curiosity, we’re continuing to climb Mount Sharp.
We just wrapped up our exploration of the Glen Torridon region.
And we’re now on the hunt for the zone where we know the rocks will transition from being these clay rich rocks that formed in ancient lakes, to salty rocks filled with a mineral called sulfate.
We began our hunt for this clay sulfate transition at a region we informally named, “Mont Mercou” and we parked at the base of Mont Mercou where erosion has cut away and made this big 20 foot high cliff.
And so we drilled the base of this cliff.
We took a selfie and we took many images of the hundreds of fine layers that we see exposed in the side of the cliff.
And by analyzing these layers we’re going to understand more about the geologic processes that have shaped the area.
Raquel Villanueva: What is next for Curiosity?
Abigail Fraeman: Well after doing a bunch of science at the base of Mount Mercou, we turned around and we ascended to the top where we took an absolutely spectacular 360 degree color panorama of our view.
And I love this image because if you look off to one side you can see the floor of Gale crater where curiosity landed.
We’ve since climbed over 1300 feet to get to where we are now on the side of the mound.
And if you look off to the other side you can see the terrain further ahead.
Those are the hills where we know the sulfate minerals will be from our orbital data.
And so that is where we’re headed.
Raquel Villanueva: Thanks for the update, Abigail and take a deeper dive on the mission websites mars.nasa.gov/perseverance and visit mars.nasa.gov/msl for the Curiosity rover, and follow @NASAPersevere and @MarsCuriosity on social media.