The Perseverance rover chokes on Mars pebbles while collecting the 6th rock sample
NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover has rocks stuck in its throat.
Perseverance drilled and collected its sixth rock sample from the Red Planet late last month, but the car-sized rover has yet to be able to seal the titanium tube containing the material.
“I recently captured my sixth rock core and encountered a new challenge. It appears that some pebble-sized debris is preventing my robotic arm from transmitting the tube for sealing/storage. More images and data to come. #SamplingMars takes perseverance,” mission team members said Friday (January 7) via Perseverance’s Twitter account.
Related: Where to find the latest photos of Mars taken by NASA’s Perseverance rover
Perseverance landed in February 2021 inside the 28-mile-wide (45-kilometer) Jezero Crater, which was home to a lake and river delta billions of years ago. The rover has two primary mission objectives: to search for signs of ancient Martian life and collect and cache several dozen samples. This virgin Martian material will be returned to Earth, possibly as early as 2031, by a joint NASA/European Space Agency campaign.
Perseverance has already taken five rock samples from the Red Planet. On December 29, the six-wheeled robot took sample number six from a boulder the mission team calls Issole, hollowing out the material using the hammer drill at the end of its 7-foot robotic arm. feet long (2.1 meters).
All went well until Perseverance transferred the sample, which was already inside its titanium tube, to the “bit carousel”, a rotating wheel-like structure on the chassis of the rover. Sensors unexpectedly registered resistance early in this stage, suggesting some blockage.
Late last week, the mission team asked Perseverance to remove the sample-filled tube from the carousel and take some pictures of the mechanism. These images revealed pebbles in the bit carousel.
The Perseverance team is currently working on the issue.
“Bit Carousel designers took into consideration the ability to continue to operate successfully with debris,” said Louise Jandura, lead engineer for sampling and caching at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. du Sud, which manages the Perseverance mission. wrote in a blog post on Friday (Jan. 7).
“However, this is the first time we’ve done debris removal, and we want to take all the time necessary to make sure these pebbles come out in a controlled and orderly manner,” Jandura added.
This isn’t the first sampling challenge Perseverance has faced on Mars. For example, the rover did not collect any material during its first sampling effort, which took place in August. The mission team determined that the target rock on this occasion was probably too soft, crumble into pieces which did not enter the tube.
“One thing we’ve discovered is that when the technical challenge is hundreds of millions of miles away (Mars is currently 215 million miles away [346 million kilometers] of Earth), it pays to take your time and be thorough,” Jandura wrote. “We’ll do it here. So when we hit the unpaved Martian road again, Perseverance’s sample collection will also be ready to roll.”
Mike Wall is the author of “The low(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom Or on Facebook.