| 23 May 2024, Thursday |

Perseverance: NASA’s Mars Rover Makes Second Drill Sample Bid

The US space agency’s Perseverance rover looks to have retrieved a rock sample on Mars at the second attempt.

The robot’s drill made a neat hole in a thick slab dubbed “Rochette”.

New images appear to show a rock core was securely picked up. A previous attempt last month saw the sample crumble to dust. If Perseverance has been successful this time, it would represent the first ever rock section collected on another planet intended for return to Earth.

The rover is tasked with gathering more than two dozen cores over the next year or so that will be fetched home by a joint US and European effort later this decade.

NASA’s Perseverance robot landed in Mars’ Jezero Crater in February.

The deep, 45km-wide depression, some 20 degrees north of the planet’s equator, looks to have held a lake billions of years ago.

Because of this, scientists think Jezero’s sediments may hold traces of ancient microbial life – assuming biology ever took hold on Mars.

From its touchdown location, the robot has driven more than 2km to a slightly raised ridge nicknamed the Citadelle.

It’s here that the Perseverance team selected Rochette as the target for the latest drilling attempt.

The robot is equipped with a caching system that will take a finger-sized core of rock cut by the drill and place it in a titanium tube.

Before sealing this cylinder, however, the rover will image the contents. It was at this stage in early August during the first sampling attempt that Perseverance scientists realized they had nothing in the tube; the coring mechanism had shattered the rock to a powder that then fell back on to the ground around the drill hole.

But the mission team will be encouraged by the first pictures downlinked by Perseverance on Thursday which clearly indicated rocky material from Rochette in the corer head at the entrance to the cylinder.

The rover must now fully process the sample within its belly. Perseverance continues to be shadowed by its mini-helicopter, Ingenuity.

Originally taken to Mars as a technology demonstration, the drone is now being used routinely to scout the terrain ahead of the rover. Ingenuity has made a total of 12 flights.

  • Reuters