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NASA’s Perseverance Team Assessing First Mars Sampling Attempt

This image taken by one of the hazard cameras aboard NASA’s Perseverance rover on Aug. 6, 2021, shows the hole drilled in what the rover’s science team calls a “paver rock” in preparation for the mission’s first attempt to collect a sample from Mars. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Data sent to Earth by NASA’s Perseverance rover after its first attempt to collect a rock sample on Mars and seal it in a sample tube indicate that no rock was collected during the initial sampling activity. The rover carries 43 titanium sample tubes, and is exploring Jezero Crater, where it will be gathering samples of rock and regolith (broken rock and dust) for future analysis on Earth. Perseverance’s Sampling and Caching System uses a hollow coring bit and a percussive drill at the end of its 7-foot-long (2-meter-long) robotic arm to extract samples. Telemetry from the rover indicates that during its first coring attempt, the drill and bit were engaged as planned, and post-coring the sample tube was processed as intended. “The sampling process is autonomous from beginning to end,” said Jessica Samuels, the surface mission manager for Perseverance at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “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.” "Initial thinking is that the empty tube is more likely a result of the rock target not reacting the way we expected during coring, and less likely a hardware issue with the Sampling and Caching System,” said Jennifer Trosper, project manager for Perseverance at JPL. “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.” Perseverance is currently exploring two geologic units containing Jezero Crater’s deepest and most ancient layers of exposed bedrock and other intriguing geologic features. The first unit, called the “Crater Floor Fractured Rough,” is the floor of Jezero. The adjacent unit, named “Séítah” (meaning “amidst the sand” in the Navajo language), has Mars bedrock as well, and is also home to ridges, layered rocks, and sand dunes. More About the Mission A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith. Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis. -end-

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