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NASA Puzzled by Rover's Failure to Collect Martian Rock

Perseverance's hardware was working, but sample tube was empty
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 9, 2021 4:25 PM CDT
Perseverance's First Attempt to Collect Rock Goes Wrong
A hole drilled in preparation for the attempt to collect the Martian sample.   (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

(Newser) – The Perseverance Mars rover's first effort to collect a rock sample was not a success—but NASA scientists plan to persevere. The rover, which landed in the Jezero crater in February, attempted to collect a core sample and seal it in a titanium tube but the mission team was surprised to discover that the tube was empty after the sampling operation concluded, the BBC reports. The mission team says the coring bit and the percussive drill at the end of the rover's 7-foot robotic arm worked as intended, as did the sampling system, suggesting that the rock itself might have reacted in an unexpected way, reports Engadget.

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Perseverance project manager Jennifer Trosper said in a statement that there does not appear to be a hardware issue and the team will analyze the data to determine why the tube was empty. "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," she said. "One thing I’ve found is, it’s not unusual to have complications during complex, first-time activities." Perseverance's mission is to identify areas that could have once hosted microbial life and look for possible evidence of ancient life on Mars. It will leave the rock sample tubes on the planet's surface and if all goes to plan, they will be collected by a European Space Agency rover in 2026 and arrive back on Earth by 2031. (In February, it sent back the first-ever audio and video from Mars.)

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