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NASA's Perseverance rover fails in it's first attempt at drilling on Mars

Updated: Sep 8, 2021

The Perseverance rover looked as though its first drilling attempt would be successful when it managed to penetrate the surface of Mars, however, after drilling into the red planet the sample tube came up empty.

Perseverance rover drills into Mars surface
NASA's Perseverance rover successfully drills into Mars surface but the sample tube comes up empty

NASA's Perseverance rover has been unsuccessful in its initial attempt to collect a rock sample from beneath the surface of Mars in its quest to search for signs of ancient life on the planet, the space agency has confirmed. The rover is equipped with a two-metre-long robotic arm which is fitted with a hollow core bit and percussive drill at the end of it, designed to extract samples from under the Martian surface.

The aim is to collect around half a kilogram of rock and soil samples which will be stored in large titanium tubes, the tubes are intended to be left there and collected on a future return mission to Mars.

NASA is now working to ensure that they can still actually collect any of the intended samples.

An image that was taken and sent back by the rover clearly shows that the collection tube was empty following the failed attempt.

NASA perseverance rover drilling into surface
An image of the sample tube taken by the Perseverance rover shows no sample has been collected

Mr Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington said, "While this is not the 'hole-in-one we hoped for, there is always a risk with breaking new ground, I'm confident we have the right team working this, and we will persevere toward a solution to ensure future success,"

The reason behind the rover landing in the Jezero crater was to drill deep down into the sediment of what is believed to be an ancient river to check for any remnants of microbial life.

The samples of Martian rock and soil would not have been analysed immediately but instead they hoped to collect them with another rover on a separate Mars mission in approximately ten years.

NASA is working with the European Space Agency on planning a mars sample return mission, this way these samples, if they get any, can be examined with special instruments that are too large to send to Mars.

River Jezero on Mars
The Jezero crater is an ancient river that may contain proof of ancient microbial life

Surface mission manager, Jessica Samuels, said: "The sampling process is autonomous from beginning to end. One of the steps that occurs after placing a probe into the collection tube is to measure the volume of the sample. The probe did not encounter the expected resistance that would be there if a sample were inside the tube."

NASA said that it is assembling a team to respond to the incident and attempt to figure out what went wrong, the team's first objective will be to analyse the borehole.

Jennifer Trosper, project manager for Perseverance, said: "The initial thinking is that the empty tube is more likely a result of the rock target not reacting the way we expected during coring, and less likely a hardware issue with the Sampling and Caching System;

"Over the next few days, the team will be spending more time analysing the data we have, and also acquiring some additional diagnostic data to support understanding the root cause for the empty tube."


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