NASA says that its Perseverance rover failed its first attempt to drill rock samples on Mars, an unexpected and disappointing outcome. NASA indicates that it believes future attempts will be successful, however, with the team behind the rover suspecting the issue is due to the rock itself, not Perseverance’s hardware.
Perseverance, like the other rovers NASA has put on Mars, has a special mission: it will collect samples of Martian rocks and regolith, package them in titanium tubes, and deposit them for a future mission to pick up and return to Earth. This mission will give scientists the opportunity to study the material in person, a huge milestone for Mars exploration.
The first drilling attempt was intended to kick off this effort. Perseverance used a drill to bore a hole through Martian rock, then it was to place the drilled sample into one of its titanium tubes. The process is autonomous, meaning the rover takes care of each step of the mission; scientists receive data from it.
Based on a measurement of the tube after the drilling attempt was finished, the Perseverance team concluded that the tube was, in fact, empty, making the first attempt a disappointment. According to NASA, its Perseverance team will analyze data and use the rover’s various instruments to figure out what caused this unexpected outcome.
NASA indicates that the rock’s properties may have been different than anticipated, leading to the collection failure. This wouldn’t be the first time that a Mars rock proved difficult to sample. Curiosity, for example, encountered rocks that ended up being far harder than expected, and InSight notoriously struggled to get its ‘mole’ instrument bored through the Martian surface.