Sample Return Science

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Kenneth H Williford, Abigail Allwood, Luther W Beegle, Rohit Bhartia, David Flannery, Adam Hoffmann, Maria F. Mora, Jorge Orbay, Daniel A Petrizzo, Michael L Tuite Jr and Peter A Willis, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, United States
The first clear identification of an ancient habitable environment on Mars by the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover mission relied on a synthetic analytical approach combining orbital and surface imagery and spectroscopy with sophisticated sample acquisition and handling technology including a rotary percussive drill that provided powdered rock for bulk geochemical analysis [1]. The recent announcement of the instrument package for the proposed NASA Mars2020 rover mission, including micro x-ray fluorescence (PIXL) for elemental mapping as well as scanning ultraviolet laser fluorescence and Raman (SHERLOC) suggests a shift in emphasis of Mars surface science towards spatially resolved geochemical analysis that will support the selection and acquisition of samples for coring, caching, and possible return to Earth for further analysis. During a recent field expedition to investigate Archean and Proterozoic biosignatures in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, we deployed a dry, rotary percussive coring drill with a bit assembly analogous to that being considered for Mars2020. Six targets of varying age and lithology were sampled with the coring drill, and surrounding and adjacent rock samples were collected simultaneously. These samples were subsequently prepared and subsampled for bulk and in situ, spatially resolved analysis using conventional laboratory methods as well as the existing PIXL and SHERLOC platforms currently in development. Here we present new approaches and data from this integrated and ongoing program of “sample return science” designed to simulate, and eventually reduce risk associated with a long-term effort towards Mars sample return.

[1] Grotzinger, J.P. et al. 2014. Science 343 DOI: 10.1126/science.1242777.