NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover will soon remove the rock in the middle of this image, which is dubbed Rochette. This will allow engineers and scientists to evaluate whether the rock would withstand the more powerful sampling drill.
NASA's Perseverance Rover will soon attempt to capture its first Mars sample.
Perseverance arrived in the Red Planet's Jezero Crater in February to search for signs of ancient Mars life. It also collected dozens of drill samples to aid its return to Earth. Perseverance, a car-sized robot, attempted to capture the first of these samples on Aug. 6. However, things did not go according to plan. The rock Perseverance dug into proved to be extremely soft, and Perseverance had to break it down into pieces that could not make it into the sampling tube.
The rover has travelled 1,493 feet (455m) to reach a craggy ridge that the mission team calls "Citadelle", which is French for "castle") and seems to offer more greener pastures.
Related: Where can I find the most recent Mars photos taken by NASA's Perseverance Rover?
"The ridge is capped by a layer of rocks that appears to resist wind erosion," officials from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California (JPL), which manages Perseverance's missions, stated in an update on Thursday (Aug. 26).
A rock called "Rochette" was spotted by the rover team at Citadelle. Perseverance will be using a tool at the end its 7-foot (2.1 m long) robotic arm to remove the rock and allow mission team members to see its subsurface over the next few days. If they are satisfied with what they see they will command Perseverance drill Rochette and take a sample. This sample will be kept in one of 42 tubes remaining on the rover.
The mission team added an additional step to the sampling process in this attempt to ensure Perseverance doesn’t throw away another tube. After drilling Rochette and sampling it, the rover will stop to allow the team to look at photos taken by Perseverance’s Mastcam Z imaging system. NASA officials stated that Perseverance will seal a tube if photos prove it contains a sample.
Closeup of Mars rock "Rochette", which the Perseverance science group will examine to determine if it is possible to obtain a core rock sample. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
The sealed empty tube that was left over from the Aug. 6 attempt is still a good idea. There are still more than 40 tubes that can be used by perseverance. The mission team planned to collect an empty tube during the mission, so that researchers on Earth could examine a pure sample of Martian atmosphere.
"By sending samples back to Earth, we hope that we can answer a number of scientific queries, including the composition of Mars’ atmosphere," Perseverance project scientist Ken Farley said in Thursday's update. Farley is based at California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "That's why, we're interested to an atmospheric sample alongside rock samples.
NASA and the European Space Agency have partnered to bring Perseverance’s samples back to Earth. If everything goes according to plan, the Martian material could be here as soon as 2031.