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Thursday, January 27, 2022

Pebble trouble: Debris obstruct NASA Perseverance Mars rover’s sample collection

Latest images showed that fragments of cored rock fell out of the sample tube during dropoff.

By: Science Desk | Kochi |
January 10, 2022 5:35:24 pm
Perseverance Mars roverThis image of pebble-sized debris in the bit carousel on NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover was acquired on Jan. 7, 2022, by the WATSON camera. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

If you thought dust storms and tough terrains gave Mars rovers a hard time, here is more news – even a few pieces of pebble-sized debris can halt its functioning. On January 8, NASA tweeted that debris were obstructing the robotic arm from handing off the tube for sealing/storage.

Last month, the Perseverance rover successfully cored and extracted a sample from a Mars rock. While processing the rock samples, the rover’s sensors recorded resistance or drag. “This is only the 6th time in human history a sample has been cored from a rock on a planet other than Earth, so when we see something anomalous going on, we take it slow,” wrote Louise Jandura, Chief Engineer for Sampling and Caching at NASA/JPL, in a blog.

The team commanded the rover to take more images to study what happened and how it can be fixed. The latest images showed that fragments of cored rock fell out of the sample tube during dropoff. This prevented the bit from seating completely in the bit carousel.

“This is not the first curve Mars has thrown at us – just the latest. One thing we’ve found is that when the engineering challenge is hundreds of millions of miles away (Mars is currently 215 million miles from Earth), it pays to take your time and be thorough. We are going to do that here. So that when we do hit the unpaved Martian road again, Perseverance sample collection is also ready to roll,” adds Jandura.

Launched on July 30, 2020, the rover landed on the Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021. Its key objective is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. It will also collect rock and soil samples to be returned to Earth by a future NASA mission. In October, a device aboard the rover was able to produce oxygen from the Martian atmosphere for the first time. Images sent by Perseverance have helped researchers confirm that Mars’ Jezero crater was once a lake.

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