October 16, 2021

NASA’s first effort to collect samples from Mars with the Perseverance rover fails

2 min read

The Perseverance rover’s first sample-snagging operation did not go as expected. Perseverance, which is a car-sized spaceship that descended in February inside the Mars’ Jezero Crater, has two primary goals: to look for indications of past Martian life and to gather and archive materials for eventual return to Earth.

On Friday (August 6), the NASA rover bored its first sample-collecting hole, marking a significant milestone in the $2.7 billion mission. However, NASA officials revealed on Friday afternoon that data from Perseverance indicates that no Mars dirt or rock reached it into the sampling tube.

In a statement, Thomas Zurbuchen, who works at the NASA’s Science Mission Directorate as an associate administrator in Washington, said, “While that was not ‘hole in one’ we expected for, there is always risk in breaking new ground.” (Perseverance’s operation is the initial phase of a first-of-its-kind Mars sample-return program.)

“I’m certain we have the proper people working on this, and we’ll keep working until we find a solution,” Zurbuchen added.

The rover has 43 sample tubes, so it was not a make-or-break situation for Perseverance. Perseverance will fill at least 20 of them with material taken from holes drilled into the Martian rock with a percussive drill at the close of its 7-foot-long robotic arm, according to the mission plan.

According to NASA officials, data from Perseverance showed that the drill, which includes a hollow coring bit, performed as expected, and that sample tube processing appeared to be normal.

In the same release, Jessica Samuels, Perseverance surface mission manager of the NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) located in Southern California added, “The sampling procedure is autonomous from beginning to end.” “After inserting an investigation into a collection tube, among the next stages is to figure out how much of a sample there is. There was no resistance from the probe, which would be anticipated if there had been a sample within the tube.”

The Perseverance team reported via the rover’s Twitter Page account that this result — a satisfactorily bored hole but instead an empty tube — wasn’t seen during testing of the sample system on Earth.

“This empty tube is more probably a consequence of the rock objective not behaving the way we anticipated during coring, and far less likely a hardware fault with the Sampling and Caching System,” Jennifer Trosper, Perseverance project manager at JPL, stated in the same statement. “Within the coming few days, the crew will devote additional time to examining the data we have and obtaining more diagnostic information to assist us in determining why this tube is empty.”

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