According to the latest news, NASA’s Mars rover, Perseverance is gearing up for another attempt in the coming weeks. The rover landed on Mars in February. It will drive to a new location called Citadelle for a second shot at picking up its first rock sample.
Louise Jandura, the Chief Engineer for Sampling & Caching on NASA’s Perseverance team said “We were just super excited that the hardware worked from beginning to end without any faults. And then there was that surprise — ‘No sample? What do you mean no sample?’ So quickly, after that sunk in, we started to do the investigation.”
Interestingly, the rock that Perseverance dug into was not as sturdy as scientists thought it’d be. It was assumed to be a fairly solid rock core but it turned out to be a crumbly powder which slipped out of the rover’s sampling tube. Since the sample tube was empty, officials used the rover’s cameras to analyze remnants of the hole that Perseverance drilled and figured the mound of dust around the hole and some material at the bottom of the hole.
Jennifer Trosper, Project Manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, wrote in a blog post on Thursday, “The rock simply wasn’t our kind of rock. Although we had successfully acquired over 100 cores in a range of different test rocks on Earth, we had not encountered a rock in our test suite that behaved in quite this manner.”
The drill bit used for Perseverance’s first sampling attempt was for collecting rock cores. Some of the rover’s drill bits are better suited for collecting regolith.
Perseverance has a mission of collecting as many as 35 samples of Martian rocks and return those samples in the 2030s. The collected rocks would represent the first pristine Mars samplings ever captured and returned to Earth by humans.
NASA engineers have almost spent a decade in designing and building the rover’s sampling system. Perseverance’s chief engineer Adam Steltzner describes it as “the most complicated, most sophisticated thing that we know how to build.”