This story is part of, our series exploring the red planet.
Mars doesn’t like our robotic explorers. This, and , and now he’s challenging NASA’s Perseverance rover again. Pebble-sized debris interferes with the machine’s rock sample collection system.
Everything went well at the start. On December 29, Perseverance drilled into a rock nicknamed Issole and extracted a sample. “However, when transferring the bit that contains the sample to the rover’s bit carousel (which stores the bits and passes the tubes to the tube processing equipment inside the rover), our sensors indicated an anomaly.” , wrote Louise Jandura, chief engineer for sampling and caching, in a blog post on Friday.
The rover halted its sampling activities when it encountered unusual resistance during the sample storage process. As the rover team put it in a tweet on Friday, the result is that the debris prevents the rover’s robotic arm from properly returning the sample-filled tube for sealing and storage.
Perseverance is the first rover to attempt to collect samples from Mars in sealed tubes. It’s a key part of a mission that is also looking for signs of ancient microbial life on the Red Planet. NASA plans to send an ambitiousand bring them back to Earth for study.
The rover crew ordered the machine to reverse by removing the drill bit and tube. He took a few pictures along the way to help diagnose the problem. “These most recent top-down images confirm that inside the bit carousel there are a few pebble-sized pieces of debris,” Jandura wrote. NASA expects the pebbles to have fallen from the sample tube.
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While the debris presents a challenge, there is no cause for concern at this time. Jandura said the bit carousel designers considered this possibility, but that it will take time to find a solution to allow the pebbles to “come out in a controlled and orderly fashion.”
NASA has been resourceful when it comes to overcoming the tantrums of the Red Planet. The Perseverance team plans to take this one slowly to make sure the sampling system is clear and ready to use for future work.