The Perseverance rover is one of the most popular space rovers thanks to the fact that it is a sample-return mission, which means that it will drill into the Martian rock/soil and bring back samples to Earth for further analysis.
However, the sample return bit of the mission is extremely challenging if a rock suddenly disappears without reason.
The story started last week when the mission attempted to gather samples from Mars and place them in one of the rover’s 43 sample tubes.
Initially, all seemed to be going great. The rover picked a rock in the Jezero Crater, which the scientists believe is a perfect spot to search for traces of ancient microbial life on the red planet as it is a 28 mile-wide impact crater and former lake.
The rover managed to drill a minuscule, finger-size hole.
However, though a hole in the rock was made, the sample tube contained no rock sample, which worried specialists.
Thomas Zurbuched, an associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, stated:
“While this is not the ‘hole-in-one’ we hoped for, there is always risk with breaking new ground. I’m confident we have the right team working on this, and we will persevere toward a solution to ensure future success.”
Engineers are working on figuring out what happened to the missing sample. There are several clues available at the moment.
Perseverance is equipped with a hollow coring bit and a percussive drill at the end of its seven-foot arm, which was built specially to take samples.
NASA says that data from the process suggests that the sample harvesting process data appear normal, making the situation a total head-scratcher.
Jessica Samuels, the surface mission manager for Perseverance at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, explained that the sampling process is entirely autonomous, from start 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,” she added.
The Perseverance crew is assembling a specialized team to look into the data in more detail.