After an initial failure, Perseverance collects Martian rock sample

The Perseverance Mars rover photographed the borehole in a rock on the floor of Jezero Crater where it successfully captured its first rock sample on 1 September. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

After an initial failure, the Perseverance rover successfully drilled into a martian rock and collected a core sample, extracting pristine material from an ancient lakebed on the floor of Jezero Crater.

“The project got its first cored rock under its belt, and that’s a phenomenal accomplishment,” Jennifer Trosper, the rover project manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement. “The team determined a location, and selected and cored a viable and scientifically valuable rock. We did what we came to do.”

Initial images captured 1 September by the rover’s Mastcam-Z camera clearly showed pulverised rock in the sample collection tube. The impact drill then was vibrated five times as planned to shake off any residual material at the tip. Because of the lighting, it was not clear the sample was still in place after the vibration procedure. But subsequent photos a few days later confirmed a successful collection.

“I’ve got it! With better lighting down the sample tube, you can see the rock core I collected is still in there,” the rover’s Twitter account announced 5 September.

Jezero Crater once held a lake fed by a channel carved in the rim. Remnants of ancient microbial organisms, if any were present, would have ended up on the floor of the lake, possibly preserved in sedimentary deposits seen today. Perseverance was sent to Jezero to collect samples from those deposits.

The rover is equipped with a complex sample acquisition system designed to drill out core samples and deposit the material in small tubes that later will be left in one or more caches on the surface.

NASA and the European Space Agency plan to send another rover to retrieve the samples at the end of the decade. The samples then will be launched into Mars orbit where another spacecraft will snag them and return the payload to Earth for detailed laboratory analysis.

During an initial sampling attempt in August, Perseverance successfully drilled into a targeted rock as planned, but nothing was in the sample tube after it was processed. After the second collection attempt, NASA held off sending commands to process the material until photographs confirmed a successful acquisition.