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Perseverance pierced its first rock on Mars, but the hero disappeared into the air

It was supposed to be the beginning of the science mission to persevere and instead turned into a puzzle: The first drilling and sampling campaign of NASA’s last “Mars” rover didn’t go exactly according to predictions. The container, which had to be sealed to return it to Earth from a later mission, after the first analyzes turned out to be empty. What happened to the material that was drilled by the drill? This is the first, partial, hurdle of a task that has so far suspended a series of successes one after another, with perfect mastery to carry out very complex activities.

A rover designed for digging and collecting rocks and sandy debris

Digging holes in rocks and soil in the Jezero Crater of Mars is the primary task of perseverance, which It is designed to collect etched materials in special titanium tubes, waiting for a new rover to retrieve it in the future and send it back to Earth via an innovative launch system. The goal is to give researchers the possibility to study the composition of samples with every arsenal of instruments available on Earth, since there is a limit to what is remotely possible even with a sophisticated rover like the Perseverance.

An animation detailing the drilling process, sample collection and analysis, and tube closure for storage.

The sample collection process is fully automated and includes an in-house analysis of each step. The drilling is carried out by drilling a real small core with a drill mounted on a robotic arm with a length of 2 meters. Once drilling is complete, the boom repositions its head toward the rover to transport the tube with the material collected on board. At this point, the tube is inserted into a new instrument to confirm the presence and quantity of samples, before storing them in a special place. Perseverance carries a total of 43 tubes for rock and soil sample collection.

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The drilling was successful, but it is the Martian rock that reacts in an unexpected way

The perseverance telemetry data speaks for itself: The rover will do all the drilling and processing of the collecting pipe correctly. However, according to the first post-drill analyses, they indicate that the tube remained empty: the probe “immersed” in the collecting tube to determine the consistency and volume of the sample did not meet the expected resistance, as if the tube were empty. What happened?

Perseverance excavation resumed after excavation work. The yellow ring that appears in the center is the hole for the collector tube. The clear slide on the left is the part of the inner wall of the tube illuminated by the sun, where serial 233 can be read.

The initial hypothesis is that the empty tube is the result of an unexpected response from the rock to drilling work, rather than a problem with the hardware of the sampling and buffering system.said Jennifer Trosper, Project Manager at Perseverance. This wouldn’t be the first time. For example, InSight was not able to penetrate its thermal probe into the subsurface of Mars due to its lower-than-expected ground grip, but NASA also remembers instances of Curiosity encountering rocks that are harder and brittle than expected, or Phoenix’s collision with sticky and difficult-to-analyze soils. Now the first step will be to analyze the aperture with the image sensor. WATSON (Wide Angle Operations and Electronic Engineering Topographical Sensor) to better understand what happened, while the persistence team will perform an in-depth analysis of all available diagnostic data to reconstruct what happened and understand why the tube emptied.

InSight’s “Mole” has finished digging into the surface of Mars. I was struck by the soil of Mars

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