The Perseverance robot successfully drilled through a Martian rock on Thursday (3rd), creating an intact core sample that could be returned to Earth one day.
However, NASA wants better images to ensure the sample is secure in the tube before it is sealed and stored in the rover.
So far, data sent by the rover and initial images suggest that an intact sample was inside the tube after Perseverance drilled through a rock selected by the mission’s scientific team.
After the initial images were taken, the robot vibrated the drill and tube for five one-second bursts to clean any residual material from the outside. It is possible that this caused the sample to slip into the tube.
The images taken next were “inconclusive due to poor sunlight conditions,” according to the agency. Perseverance will use its cameras to take more images under better lighting conditions before taking the next steps in the sampling process.
The extra step of taking additional images before sealing and storing the sample tube was added after Perseverance tried to drill through another rock on August 5th.
During this attempt, the rock crumbled and there was no sample present in the tube when it was stored.
“The project had the first fragment of rock in its wake, and that’s a phenomenal achievement,” said Jennifer Trosper, project manager for the mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, in a statement.
“The team determined a location, selected and drilled a viable and scientifically valuable rock. We did what we came to do. We’re going to overcome this hitch in the lighting conditions in the images and we’ll continue to be excited about having a sample in this tube,” he said.
The rover uses a rotary-percussive drill and hollow drill to drill through the rocks and collect samples slightly thicker than a pencil. This sampling system is located at the end of the rover’s robotic arm, which measures 2 meters in length.
Perseverance is currently exploring the location of the Citadelle at Jezero Crater, which, billions of years ago, was once the site of an ancient lake.
The rover’s specific target was a rock called Rochette, which is about the size of a paste and is part of a half-kilometer line of rock outcrops and rocks.
The mission team is expected to receive more images than is inside the sample tube by September 4th. If images taken while the sun is at a better angle do not help the team determine if the sample is present, the tube will be sealed and the rover will measure its volume.
If Perseverance is able to successfully collect samples from Mars, they will be returned to Earth in future missions – and they could reveal whether microbial life ever existed on Mars.