Mars Perseverance disrupts rock sample storage due to debris

Deepak Gupta January 8, 2022
Updated 2022/01/08 at 10:45 PM

The Mars Perseverance rover sample collection had a problem. NASA reports the rover stopped caching samples after debris partially blocked the drill carousel (the device that stores the drills and passes the sample tubes for internal processing). The rover found the anomaly on Dec. 29, but the mission team had to wait until Jan. 6 to send a command to extract the drill, disengage the robot arm from the carousel and take images to verify what happened.

The obstacles are believed to be pebbles that fell from the sample tube as they fell from the witness drill, preventing it from getting well on the carousel. Storage is crucial to NASA’s plans to eventually return the samples to Earth.

This is not the end of sample collection. NASA/JPL Chief Sampling Engineer Louise Jandura noted that the carousel was designed to work with debris. It’s the first time the team has had to clear the wreckage, however, and Jandura said the operators would take the time to get rid of the pebbles in a “controlled and orderly” manner.

This isn’t the first time Perseverance has had problems. The rover failed to collect samples during its first attempt, while the Ingenuity helicopter experienced a processing error during its sixth flight. Still, this illustrates the challenges of the mission – even a seemingly pedestrian task, as storing a sample can go wrong under the wrong conditions. And when Mars is so far away, corrections aren’t necessarily easy or right.

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