December 22, 2020

One key activity for NASA's Perseverance Mars rover, which is on its way to the Red Planet, will be to collect samples of Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust) for future return to Earth.

Because scientists want to be confident that any signs of ancient life they might observe in samples returned to Earth are from Mars, not Earth, Perseverance's Sample Caching System -- including the tubes the samples go in -- had to be the cleanest set of components humankind has ever launched into space. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory met the challenge.

A future mission, which involves a collaboration between NASA and the European Space Agency, will return the samples to Earth. The Perseverance rover is set to land on the surface of Mars on February 18, 2021.

For more information on the mission, visit:


[Thora Maltais] We are working on something that is the cleanest we’ve ever really attempted to send into space.

Perseverance’s Sample Tubes Ready for Mars


[Ken Farley] The Perseverance mission has as its central goal astrobiology. And also being the first step in Mars Sample Return. We’re going to collect a suite of samples, about 35 samples that each weigh about 15 grams.

[Katie Stack Morgan] The reason we collect those intact samples is that we are the first mission that’s part of Mars Sample Return. And it’s our job to collect the samples intact, to be brought back to Earth for further analysis.

[Ian Clark] To better assess the question of: was there life previously on Mars?

[Ian Clark] Inside the belly of the rover sit a number of sample tubes and an entire adaptive caching assembly that is used to help collect the samples.

[Ken Farley] An extraordinarily complex robotic system. And to make it even more complicated, it has to be super clean. We don’t want to have these samples come back from Mars and discover life in them but then realize that oh, that’s life that was in the apparatus when we sent it to Mars.

[Katie Stack Morgan] That was a big challenge for the mission, because we were meeting cleanliness standards that no rover mission has ever had to meet before.

[Ian Clark] The requirements that we have for this mission are extraordinarily challenging.

[Thora Maltais] Once we would go through machining the tube itself, getting all of our protective coatings on there, and then looking at our beautiful tubes, we found carbon contamination in places we were not expecting. So as a team we all had to really come together and look at the entire manufacturing process, how we’re handling these tubes. We had to start polishing the interior bore prior to putting on some of our protective coatings.

[Ian Clark] It meant having to come up with an entirely new technique to clean all of the hardware and demonstrate that the hardware could maintain that cleanliness all the way to Mars.

[Katie Stack Morgan] That’s what JPL does. I mean, we discover problems and then we solve them.

[Thora Maltais] Having these very strict controls and this record of how much contamination or how clean these tubes are prior to going to Mars is essential for that Return Sample science.

[Ian Clark] Great discoveries require remarkable evidence. And so the cleanliness of the sample tubes and of all the hardware that’s going to be collecting those samples is paramount in making sure that the evidence and that the story and that the discoveries that come from these samples that are brought back are irrefutably Martian.




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