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NASA isn’t sure if the Perseverance Mars rover got its first rock sample

This might be the Perseverance rover’s first rock sample from Mars. NASA hopes to bring it to Earth with a future mission.


NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

This story is part of Welcome to Mars, our series exploring the red planet.

Success at last? NASA’s Perseverance rover may have accomplished a big first for its Mars mission by drilling and capturing a rock sample that could one day be brought back to Earth, but there’s still some doubt.

The rover had previously attempted to collect a first sample, but ended up with an empty tube when the rock crumbled. The second attempt from a different rock looks promising. Raw images sent back from Mars appear to show a rock core tucked into place as expected, though we’re waiting on official confirmation from NASA.

NASA shared a look at the sample on Thursday, but wasn’t ready to declare success just yet, saying that pictures taken after an arm move “are inconclusive due to poor lighting.” The rover will snap some more close-ups to figure out what’s going on.

“Sampling Mars is underway. I’ve drilled into my rock target, and my team will be looking at more data and images to confirm if we were able to get and retain an intact core,” the rover team tweeted earlier on Thursday along with a picture of the rock target.

Perseverance is equipped with 43 sample tubes, one of which is full of Martian atmosphere after the first attempt. NASA is planning a future mission to retrieve the tubes from Mars and bring them back to Earth for study. It’s the rover’s job to fill them up with interesting geologic finds.

Successfully filling and stashing a tube with Martian rock is a critical step that will show the sampling system is working properly. The target rock is named “Rochette” and the rover team spent time inspecting it by grinding away a bit of the outer surface to get a better look prior to drilling. 

Some omages of the rock and the drill hole show what looks like a clean operation, so there’s hope it went as planned. Perseverance landed in February, but it’s still early into its mission to seek out signs of ancient microbial life in the Jezero Crater, an area once covered by a lake.

The crater is dry and dusty now, but it has lots of stories to tell. Perseverance’s first rock sample will be one chapter in that intriguing tale.

Follow CNET’s 2021 Space Calendar to stay up to date with all the latest space news this year. You can even add it to your own Google Calendar.          

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