Perseverance rover drilled a rock on Mars and probably snaffled a core sample

Now to enact humanity's cunning interplanetary kidnapping plan


NASA's Perseverance Mars rover has successfully drilled into a rock and probably retrieved a sample it's hoped will one day be kidnapped on a one-way trip to Earth.

Perseverance's first attempt to obtain a core sample of a Martian rock failed when its chosen target crumbled beneath the might of Earth's finest drilling equipment.

NASA therefore scratched Perseverance's second target before drilling, in the hope that would prove it a suitable target.

On Friday, NASA reported success.

"Data received late Sept. 1 from NASA's Perseverance rover indicate the team has achieved its goal of successfully coring a Mars rock," the Agency stated. "The initial images downlinked after the historic event show an intact sample present in the tube after coring.”

Here is NASA's image of that sample.

This Sept. 1 image from NASA’s Perseverance rover shows a sample tube with its cored-rock contents inside. The bronze-colored outer-ring is the coring bit. The lighter-colored inner-ring is the open end of the tube, and inside is a rock core sample slightly thicker than a pencil. In a later image, the rock sample was not clearly evident inside the tube. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

Perseverance rover core sample tube with rock inside. Click to enlarge.
Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

And here's the hapless rock that Perseverance cored, for all mankind.

The drill hole from Perseverance’s second sample-collection attempt can be seen, in this composite of two images taken on Sept. 1, by one of the rover’s navigation cameras. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The rock holed by Perseverance. Click to enlarge. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Don't pop the champagne just yet, dear reader. Because after NASA took the shot of the rock in the tube, Perseverance then "began a procedure called 'percuss to ingest,' which vibrates the drill bit and tube for one second, five separate times.

"The movement is designed to clear the lip of the sample tube of any residual material … and can also cause a sample to slide down farther into the tube."

After the ingest-percussion, NASA tried to get some more snaps of the sample to check all had gone as planned.

"In these images, the lighting is poor, and internal portions of the sample tube are not visible," NASA warned. More snaps will be taken in due course so that NASA can feel sure the process worked.

For now, NASA's position is that it's "encouraged that there is sample in this tube".

Perseverance carries 43 sample tubes, each of which can hold a sliver of rock about the size of a pencil. Mission plans call for the capture of around 20 samples and their eventual return to Earth in a mission that's been sketched out to launch in 2026 and return the samples to Earth in 2031.

While humanity has returned samples from asteroids, comets, the Moon, and snaffled some grains blowing around in the Solar Wind, Martian gravity is stronger than that faced by any previous sample return mission. That's what makes the retrieval of the sample Perseverance (hopefully) picked up very challenging indeed. ®

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