Last week, NASA The Rover of Perseverance has reached a new milestone in the search for extraterrestrial life: Drilling to Mars to pull out a piece of rock, which will eventually be released to Earth for scientists to study. Data sent to NASA scientists in early August 6 points to victory – the robot actually drilled the Red Planet, and the photo even shows a pile of dust around the well.
“What followed later in the morning was a roller coaster of emotions,” wrote Louise Jandura, chief sampling and caching engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in blog post yesterday describing the attempt. Although the data indicated that the persistence transferred the sample tube to the abdomen for storage, that tube was actually empty. “It took a few minutes for this reality to creep in, but the team quickly switched to the mode of investigation,” Jandura wrote. “It simply came to our notice then. It is the basis of science and engineering. “
So far, the team has several clues as to what went wrong in what Katie Stack Morgan, deputy project scientist for the Mars 2020 mission, calls the “missing core case.”
“We have successfully demonstrated the process of caching samples, but we have a tube without a core,” she says. “How is it possible that we performed all these steps perfectly and successfully, and yet there is no rock – and no anything– In a tube? “
One theory, of course, was that the rover simply dropped a core sample. But there were no broken pieces on the surface. Also, Stack Morgan says, the pipe was “very clean, not even dusty, indicating that perhaps nothing got into the pipe.”
NASA scientists now think that the nucleus was actually crushed in the process of drilling, and then scattered on the well. “That would explain why we don’t see any pieces in the hole and why we don’t see pieces on the ground because they basically became part of the logging,” says Stack Morgan. “So we started thinking about why this happened, because it’s not the behavior that the engineers saw in the very extensive trial set of rocks they cored before launch.”
Perseverance drills into Crater Lake, which once rocked the lake, so it may have been home ancient microbial life. (It relied on a Mars helicopter, Genius,, look for places to dig.) Digging into the rock instead of just sampling dust on the surface, the rover will provide vital clues about the geological history of the planet. The Rover Curiosity, which landed on Mars in 2012, was also drilled, but was designed to crush rock instead of extracting cores. This time, NASA engineers want samples that allow them to observe the rock as it is laid so they can analyze it for life signs – some microbes, for example, leave behind characteristic minerals.
For persistence, the drilling process actually begins inside the rover, in a section called adaptive cache. Here the robotic arm takes the tube out of the storage space and inserts it into the “bit carousel”, the container for all the persistence bits of persistence. The carousel then rotates, representing a tube – which is approximately the same shape and size as a laboratory test tube-on a 7 foot long arm that will actually perform the drilling. “We picked up that extraction piece, and there’s a pipe inside,” Jessica Samuels, head of the Surface Endurance Mission, said in an interview before the first drilling attempt. “And now we’re ready to sample at that time.”