NASA’s 1st attempt to collect Mars samples with Perseverance rover comes up empty

The Perseverance rover’s first sample-snagging attempt did not go in accordance to plan.

The car-sized Perseverance landed contained in the Red Planet’s Jezero Crater this previous February with two essential duties: to hunt for indicators of previous Mars life and to collect and cache samples for future return to Earth.

The NASA rover drilled its first sample-collecting hole on Friday (Aug. 6), a significant milestone for the $2.7 billion mission. But information beamed again to Earth by Perseverance point out that no Mars rock or grime made it into the sampling tube, NASA officers introduced on Friday afternoon.

“While this is not the ‘hole in one’ we hoped for, there is always risk with breaking new ground,” Thomas Zurbuchen, affiliate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said in a statement. (Perseverance’s mission is step one in a Mars sample-return campaign, which has by no means been performed earlier than.)

“I’m confident we have the right team working this, and we will persevere toward a solution to ensure future success,” Zurbuchen added.

Related: Where to find the latest Mars photos from NASA’s Perseverance rover

As these phrases suggest, this wasn’t a make-or-break second for Perseverance; the rover carries 43 sampling tubes. The mission plan requires Perseverance to fill at the least 20 of them with materials extracted from holes it bores into Martian rock with the percussive drill on the finish of its 7-foot-long (2.1 meters) robotic arm. 

Data obtained from Perseverance point out that the drill, which has a hole coring bit, labored as meant, and that processing of the pattern tube appeared to be regular as properly, NASA officers mentioned.

“The sampling process is autonomous from beginning to end,” Perseverance floor mission supervisor Jessica Samuels, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California, mentioned in the identical assertion. “One of the steps that occurs after placing a probe into the collection tube is to measure the volume of the sample. The probe did not encounter the expected resistance that would be there if a sample were inside the tube.”

This consequence — a efficiently drilled hole however an empty tube — was by no means encountered throughout assessments of the sampling system on Earth, the Perseverance crew mentioned via the rover’s official Twitter account

“The preliminary considering is that the empty tube is extra doubtless a results of the rock goal not reacting the way we anticipated throughout coring, and fewer doubtless a {hardware} challenge with the Sampling and Caching System,” Perseverance challenge supervisor Jennifer Trosper, additionally of JPL, mentioned in the identical assertion. “Over the next few days, the team will be spending more time analyzing the data we have and also acquiring some additional diagnostic data to support understanding the root cause for the empty tube.”

That extra information will embrace detailed images of the borehole, which Perseverance will take with the WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and Engineering) digicam on the finish of its arm, NASA officers mentioned.

There is a few precedent for surprising rock or grime properties throwing roadblocks up for Mars robots. Perseverance’s older cousin Curiosity, for instance, has drilled into rocks that proved to be considerably tougher or extra brittle than mission crew members had anticipated. And the burrowing warmth probe on NASA’s InSight Mars lander failed to dig almost as deeply as deliberate, maybe stymied by weirdly dusty yet cohesive dirt.

“I have been on every Mars rover mission since the beginning, and this planet is always teaching us what we don’t know about it,” Trosper mentioned. “One thing I’ve found is, it’s not unusual to have complications during complex, first-time activities.”

Mike Wall is the writer of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a guide in regards to the seek for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. 

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