NASA is confident that their Perseverance rover has successfully collected its first sample of Martian rocks.
The success marks a major breakthrough for the mission team after an initial attempt to collect a similar rock sample failed last month.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which oversees the current Mars mission, said the data received a few days ago suggested that Perseverance managed to drill the rock and, more importantly, get it in to keep its manifold. It performed the task with a rotating percussion drill and a hollow core drill at the end of its 2 meter (7 foot) long, and extracted a rock sample that was described as “slightly thicker than a pencil”.
Perseverance’s first collection attempt failed because the sample was too powdery to stay in the tube, causing the material to slip out. The incident prompted the team to send Perseverance to find another rock with a more suitable structure to increase the likelihood that the sample would be retained.
JPL said Thursday that recently obtained images show an intact sample in Perseverance’s collection tube. However, it added that additional images taken after the arm’s sample collection task was completed were inconclusive due to the poor exposure to sunlight. Regardless, the team is confident that the sample stayed in the tube this time. It is planned to take additional images with better lighting in the coming days to properly confirm the presence of the sample.
# SamplingMars update: First pictures show a sample in the pipe after core drilling. But pictures that I took after moving my arm are not meaningful due to the poor lighting. I take more photos in better light to confirm that we still have an intact core in the tube.
Read more: https://t.co/MqeD68KqYw pic.twitter.com/VYXErWrrEb
– NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) September 2, 2021
“The project has its first core rock under its belt and it’s a phenomenal achievement,” said Jennifer Trosper, project manager at JPL. “The team has determined a location and selected and gutted a usable and scientifically valuable rock. We did what we came to do. We will work through this little hiccup with the light conditions in the pictures and we are encouraged that there is a sample in this tube. “
The plan is to send a series of collected samples back to Earth so that scientists can study them in more detail to learn more about the red planet and whether it has ever been home to microbial life. This means that Perseverance will later set the samples aside for collection through a later mission that will attempt to be the first Martian rock to be transported to Earth.