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Monday, September 20, 2021

Explained: What happened during NASA’s first attempt to collect Mars samples with Perseverance rover?

NASA says that sampling Mars is one of the most complicated tasks and involves drilling holes, collecting and then storing the samples in test tubes.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: August 8, 2021 11:40:32 am
NASAImage made available by NASA shows the Perseverance Mars rover in the foreground, and the Ingenuity helicopter about 13 feet behind. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS via AP)

NASA’s Perseverance rover is exploring the Jezero Crater on Mars and attempting to collect its first rock samples.

According to data sent to Earth by the rover, no rock samples were collected during the first attempt. NASA says that sampling Mars is one of the most complicated tasks and involves drilling holes, collecting and then storing the samples in test tubes.

“#SamplingMars is one of my most complicated tasks. Early pics and data show a successful drill hole, but no sample in the tube–something we’ve never seen in testing on Earth. Mars keeps surprising us. We’re working through this new challenge. More to come,” NASA tweeted from its Perseverance rover handle on Saturday.

What is Perseverance’s sampling process?

The rover carries 43 titanium sample tubes and is supposed to collect samples from the Jezero Crater. The samples include rock and regolith (broken rock and dust), which will be used by researchers and scientists for future analysis on Earth.

Perseverance’s sampling process is autonomous — its sampling and caching system uses a hollow coring bit and percussive drill that is fixed at the end of its 7-feet-long robotic arm.

What happened during the first sampling attempt?

NASA has said that during Perverance’s first coring attempt, the drill and bit were engaged as planned, and post-coring the sample tube was processed as intended. However, the probe did not encounter the expected resistance that should have been there if the sample had been collected.

As of now, the Perseverance mission is assembling a response team to analyse the data and understand why the rover was unable to collect the sample.

What is Perseverance supposed to do on Mars?

Perseverance will spend one Mars year (two years on Earth) on the planet during which time it will explore the landing site region. The Jezero Crater where it landed was once the site of an ancient river delta — scientists know this because of evidence collected during previous landed and orbital missions that point to wet conditions on the planet billions of years ago.

If Mars once harboured a warmer atmosphere enabling water to flow in its ancient past (3.5-3.8 billion years ago), and if microbial life had once existed on the Red Planet, it is possible that it exists in “special regions” even today.

The rover is carrying with it seven instruments, which include an advanced camera system with the ability to zoom, a SuperCam, which is an instrument that will provide imaging and chemical composition analysis, and a spectrometer.

One of the most interesting instruments aboard the rover is called MOXIE, which will produce oxygen from Martian atmospheric carbon dioxide. If this instrument is successful, then future astronauts (as of now, no human being has kept foot on Mars) can use it to burn rocket fuel for returning to Earth.

The rover is also carrying Ingenuity, the first helicopter to fly on Mars that will help collect samples from the surface from locations where the rover cannot reach.

Broadly, the rover is designed to study signs of ancient life, collect samples that might be sent back to Earth during future missions, and test new technology that might benefit future robotic and human missions to the planet.

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