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ScienceGlobal issues

NASA's rover tries to collect Mars rocks, fails

August 7, 2021

The Perseverance rover is on a mission to hunt for signs of past life on Mars. But something went wrong in its first attempt to gather rock samples.

Photo of Perseverance on the rocky surface of the Red Planet
Perseverance will explore Jezero Crater for at least one Martian year (687 Earth days)Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/dpa/picture alliance

NASA's Perseverance rover could not collect rock samples from Mars in its first attempt to do so, the US space agency said.

The Mars rover is on a mission to collect rock samples from the Red Planet that can be studied by scientists on Earth. Samples are to be encased in tubes that would be brought back to Earth at a later date. 

But the data received by scientists showed that no sample was collected after the drilling process.

The rover is currently stationed on the surface of a large crater. Scientists believe the crater to be the site of a deep lake that existed 3.5 billion years ago. Researchers say it can provide clues about extraterrestrial life.

What did the rover do?

NASA released images of a small mound with a hole in its center next to the rover — the first dug into the planet by a robot.

The drilling process had been successful, scientists say. The engineers are now trying to discover why the rover failed to place a finger-sized rock sample in one of its titanium sample tubes.

"While this is not the 'hole-in-one' we hoped for, there is always risk with breaking new ground," Thomas Zubuchen, the associate administrator for NASA's science mission directorate, said in a statement.

NASA project scientist Ken Farley said the next step would be using a camera mounted on a robotic arm to inspect inside the hole. He said they might see the broken rock core, or might discover the sample had turned to sand.

"It's a bit deflating because this whole complicated piece of machinery worked fine, the engineering worked just fine, but it seems Mars didn't cooperate," Farley said.

"We will persevere," Farley added.

The whole sampling process takes up to 11 days.

What are Perseverance's tasks?

The Perseverance rover is on Mars to help NASA study Martian geology and past life.

It is currently stationed on the surface of Jezero Crater. It landed on Mars in February, following its seven-month journey from Earth that saw it fly about 300 million miles (480 million kilometers) before reaching its destination.

NASA plans to bring around 30 samples back to Earth in the 2030s.

rm/dj (AFP, AP)