After nearly 9 years and a few billion dollars, NASA is finally ready to gather rock samples from Mars. On Friday, NASA’s Perseverance Rover tried to collect its first Mars rock samples but came up empty-handed.
Perseverance rover just keeps setting records. It’s the first device to capture audio of the Martian surface, the first vehicle to carry a drone to another planet, the first to produce oxygen outside of Earth, and now, the first to be able to say, “aliens ate my homework.” All jokes aside, the rover didn’t actually lose the Mars rock, and instead, there was a problem during the collection process.
NASA’s Perseverance Rover cleared dust and debris from the surface of the ground, extended its 7-ft arm, then drilled a small hole in rock formations in an attempt to collect a rocks core to study later. It’s an area that could have once held alien or microbial life, so these samples are important.
After drilling a hole, the Rover collected a sample and withdrew from the hole, but the rock core had vanished, and the collection tube was empty.
“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,” Jennifer Trosper, the project manager for Perseverance, said in a statement. “Over the next few days, the team will be spending more time analyzing the data we have, and also acquiring some additional diagnostic data to support understanding the root cause for the empty tube.”
Basically, the mission team believes that the unique properties of the rock may have been to blame. For example, the sample could have broken apart or wasn’t as expected under the surface.
Either way, the team promised to persevere and continue its efforts to find a solution, gather samples, and have them ready for NASA to retrieve on another mission in about a decade.