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NASA’s Perseverance rover finally gets hold of Mars rock sample

NASA says it’s confident its Perseverance rover has successfully collected its first sample of Martian rock.

The achievement marks a significant breakthrough for the mission team after an initial attempt to gather a similar rock sample ended in failure last month.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which is overseeing the current Mars mission, said that data received a couple of days ago indicated that Perseverance had managed to drill the rock and, more importantly, retain it inside its collection tube. It performed the task using a rotary-percussive drill and a hollow coring bit at the end of its 2-meter-long (7 feet), extracting a sample of rock described as “slightly thicker than a pencil.”

Perseverance’s first collection effort failed as the sample was too powdery to stay in the tube, causing the material to slide out. The incident prompted the team to send Perseverance in search of another rock with a more suitable structure to increase the likelihood of the sample being retained.

JPL said on Thursday that recently received images show an intact sample inside Perseverance’s collection tube. But it added that additional images taken after the arm completed the sample acquisition task were inconclusive due to poor sunlight conditions. Regardless, the team says it’s confident the sample has stayed inside the tube this time. It plans to take additional images with better lighting in the coming days in order to properly confirm the presence of the sample.

#SamplingMars update: first images show a sample in the tube after coring. But pics I took after an arm move are inconclusive due to poor lighting. I’m taking more photos in better light to confirm that we still have an intact core in the tube.

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— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) September 2, 2021

“The project got its first cored rock under its belt, and that’s a phenomenal accomplishment,” said Jennifer Trosper, project manager at JPL. “The team determined a location, and selected and cored a viable and scientifically valuable rock. We did what we came to do. We will work through this small hiccup with the lighting conditions in the images and remain encouraged that there is sample in this tube.”

The plan is to send a batch of collected samples to Earth for scientists to examine more closely as they seek to learn more about the red planet and whether it was ever home to microbial life. It means that later on Perseverance will set the samples aside for collection by a later mission that will attempt to become the first to transport Martian rock to Earth.

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