Perseverance rover just had a rare misstep. The space agency has revealed that the robotic vehicle failed to collect Mars rock samples during its first attempt. While the percussive drill, coring bit and sample tube processing worked “as intended,” a probe indicated that the tube was empty — not exactly what scientists were expecting when everything else checked out.
Scientists are still investigating what happened and may not have an answer for a few days. Perseverance project manager Jennifer Trosper said the team suspected the rock might have reacted in an unexpected way during the coring process. The equipment is likely fine, in other words.
The Martian surface has created problems more than once. The Phoenix Lander had trouble gathering “sticky” soil in 2008, for instance, while Curiosity and InSight have also had trouble cracking into rocks and the surface itself.
This initial setback won’t necessarily jeopardize Perseverance’s mission. However, NASA will want to keep incidents like this to a minimum. The rover was sent to Mars in no small part to collect samples that would eventually return to Earth and help scientists look for signs of past life. The fewer samples NASA gets, the fewer chances it will have to explore Mars’ history.