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Perseverance rover’s first drilling attempt on Mars turns up empty

Aug. 7 (UPI) — NASA said the Persevrance rover’s first drilling attempt on Mars was unsuccessful, failing to collect any rock during the effort.

The agency said Friday that though the rover’s coring bit and percussive drill performed as planned, the sample tube was shown to be empty after the drilling process.

“The sampling process is autonomous from beginning to end,” said Jessica Samuels, the surface mission manager for Perseverance at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “One of the steps that occurs after placing a probe into the collection tube is to measure the volume of the sample. The probe did not encounter the expected resistance that would be there if a sample were inside the tube.”

Perseverance team members planned to analyze the data from the drilling, including taking and evaluating close-up photos of the borehole left after the process. NASA said that once the data has been evaluated, the team will be able to schedule the next drilling attempt.

“The initial thinking is that the empty tube is more likely a result of the rock target not reacting the way we expected during coring, and less likely a hardware issue with the sampling and caching system,” said Jennifer Trosper, project manager for Perseverance at JPL. “Over the next few days, the team will be spending more time analyzing the data we have, and also acquiring some additional diagnostic data to support understanding the root cause for the empty tube.”

This week’s drilling took place at an area called Crater Floor Fractured Rough in the Jezero Crater on Mars. Imagery from the Ingenuity helicopter indicated the area had promising signs of water activity in an ancient lakebed.

NASA said the drilling was meant to give scientists a better idea of the Red Planet’s sedimentary history.

“While this is not the ‘hole-in-one’ we hoped for, there is always risk with breaking new ground,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. “I’m confident we have the right team working this, and we will persevere toward a solution to ensure future success.”

Perseverance and Ingenuity were launched from Florida on July 30, 2020, and arrived at Mars on Feb. 18.

This image, taken by the Mars helicopter Ingenuity during its ninth flight, shows a rocky terrain in the Jezero Crater area on the Martian surface on July 5, 2021. Photo courtesy of NASA

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