NASA Perseverance Rover Cores First Rock on Mars

NASA's robotic Sampling and Caching System makes second attempt to collect samples for eventual return to Earth.

A sample tube with its cored-rock contents inside. The bronze-colored outer-ring is the coring bit. The lighter-colored inner-ring is the open end of the tube, and inside is a rock core sample slightly thicker than a pencil.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

A sample tube with its cored-rock contents inside. The bronze-colored outer-ring is the coring bit. The lighter-colored inner-ring is the open end of the tube, and inside is a rock core sample slightly thicker than a pencil.

The latest National Aerospace and Space Administration mission to Mars continues the agency's exploration of the red planet for signs of ancient microbial life, preparation for eventual human missions, and demonstration of new robotics technologies. NASA's Perseverance rover sent data this week indicating that it has successfully cored its first Martian rock.

The initial images showed an intact sample present in the tube, but additional images taken after the robot arm acquiried the sample were inconclusive because of poor sunlight conditions. Another round of images with better lighting will be taken before the sample processing continues, said NASA. The Perseverance mission team decided to obtain additional imagery prior to proceeding with the sealing and storing of rock samples after failing to obtain sufficient material on Aug. 5.

“The project got its first cored rock under its belt, and that’s a phenomenal accomplishment,” said Jennifer Trosper, project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California. “The team determined a location, and selected and cored a viable and scientifically valuable rock. We did what we came to do. We will work through this small hiccup with the lighting conditions in the images and remain encouraged that there is sample in this tube.” 

Mars rover includes robotic arm and drill

Perseverance’s mission is to search for astrobiology signs and characterize the planet’s geology and past climate. It is the first to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust). NASA is planning future missions, in cooperation with European Space Agency (ESA), to send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.

The rover's Sampling and Caching System uses a rotary-percussive drill and a hollow coring bit at the end of its 7-foot-long (2-meter-long) robotic arm to extract samples slightly thicker than a pencil. Within the bit during coring is a sample tube, said NASA.

After completing coring, Perseverance maneuvered the corer, bit, and open end of the sample tube in order to be imaged by the rover’s Mastcam-Z instrument. The target for the sample collection attempt was a briefcase-size rock belonging to a ridgeline that is more than half-a-mile (900 meters) long and contains rock outcrops and boulders.

The initial set of images from Mastcam-Z showed the end of a cored rock within the sample tube. After taking these images, the rover began a procedure called “percuss to ingest,” which vibrates the drill bit and tube for one second, five separate times. The movement is designed to clear the lip of the sample tube of any residual material. The action can also cause a sample to slide down farther into the tube.

After the rover finished the percuss-to-ingest procedure, it took a second set of Mastcam-Z images. In these images, the lighting was poor, and internal portions of the sample tube wee not visible.

Waiting for more photos

Commands uplinked to the rover will result in images of the corer and tube to be acquired today when the Sun is angled in a more favorable position on Mars. Photos will also be taken after sunset to diminish point-sources of light that can saturate an image. The photos will be returned to Earth early in the morning of Sept. 4.

If the results of this additional imaging remain inconclusive, the Perseverance team still has several options, including using the Sampling and Caching System’s volume probe in the rover’s chassis as a final confirmation of the sample being in the tube.

The Sept. 1 coring is the second time that Perseverance has employed its Sampling and Caching System since landing in Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021.

The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s “Moon to Mars” exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the planet.

JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, Calif., built and manages operations of the Perseverance rover. Another successful part of this mission were the 12 flights of the Ingenuity helicopter, the first powered flights on Mars.


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NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

A sample tube with its cored-rock contents inside. The bronze-colored outer-ring is the coring bit. The lighter-colored inner-ring is the open end of the tube, and inside is a rock core sample slightly thicker than a pencil.


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