Perseverance is NASA's primary mission on Mars. It seeks evidence of past lives. Some of this evidence is hidden deep within the Martian rocks.
Perseverance was able to drill into a small rock of briefcase size and collect a core sample for the first time in its still-young mission. NASA received images and data on September 1 that confirmed that Perseverance's first coring attempt was successful.
The whole process begins with a superficial view of Mars' surface. Perseverance comes equipped with several tools to interact with the environment. These include a Rock Abrasion Tool, (RAT), which "is a high-speed grinder with bristles to remove the weathered outer layer and clear away dust" and a Gaseous Dust Removal Tool, (GDRT), which, as the name implies, clears away any dust from the area of the abrasion.
The rover has the opportunity to use other built-in instruments in this first step to study the rock more closely. NASA engineers can use the data collected from this stage to decide whether it is worth trying to get a core sample.
The whole thing happened in August. This led to Perseverance's initial attempt to core a Martian stone. NASA posted an Aug. 11 blog explaining that things didn't go as planned.
The seven-foot drill used by the rover to bore into the rock seemed to have taken a sample. However, images sent back to Earth revealed an empty storage tub. This revelation was only made after the tube had been sealed and stored for future retrieval. The rock was not the best candidate for coring.
The NASA team on Earth learned from previous experiences for this latest attempt. They used Mastcam-Z onboard cameras from the Perseverance Rover to take a picture of the sample tube, or at most the top, before sealing it for storage.
It is clear that the rock in the tube's open end can be seen. This first view is very encouraging. However, this is only the beginning of storage. After a sample has been collected, the rover will initiate a "percuss-to-ingest" procedure. This involves shaking the tube five times in short, one-second bursts. Although the goal is to remove any residue from the tube's lip, shaking can send the collected material further down.
This appears to have been the case here. NASA's initial shot of the tube's opening clearly showed that there was something inside. However, the second shot taken after the "percuss-to-ingest" process shows that it is only dark space.
NASA has not yet declared this coring operation a success, despite learning from the mistakes of its first attempt. The MastcamZ will continue to work on the tube before it is sealed for storage. A new set of images will be taken under different lighting conditions to give a better view of the tube.
However, no one is expecting to fail at this point.
Jennifer Trosper (project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory), said that the Perseverance team had successfully retrieved its first cored rock. She said, "We did what was expected of us." We will deal with this minor issue in lighting and we are encouraged by the fact that there is still sample in the tube.
Perseverance's samples will not be able to safely land on Earth for some time. If everything goes according to plan, Perseverance's bounty will arrive on Earth sometime in 2031 after a three-stage mission called "Mars Sample Return".