The sample collection of the Mars Perseverance rover has run into a problem. NASA reports that the rover stopped caching samples after debris partially blocked the bit carousel (the device that stores drill bits and passes sample tubes for internal processing). The rover discovered the anomaly on December 29, but the mission team had to wait until January 6 to send a command to remove the drill, detach the robotic arm from the carousel and take pictures to verify what happened.
It is believed that the obstacles are pebbles that fell from the sample tube when the drill bit dropped, preventing that bit from sitting neatly in the carousel. The storage is crucial to NASA’s plans to eventually return the samples to Earth.
This is not the end of monster collecting. Louise Jandura, NASA/JPL’s chief sampling engineer, noted that the carousel was designed to work with debris. However, it is the team’s first time cleaning up debris and Jandura said operators would have as much time as it took to remove the pebbles in a “controlled and orderly manner”.
This isn’t the first time Perseverance has run into trouble. The rover failed to collect samples on its first attempt, while the Ingenuity helicopter suffered a processing error on its sixth flight. Still, it illustrates the challenges of the mission – even a seemingly pedestrian task like saving a monster can go awry in the wrong circumstances. And when Mars is that far away, solutions aren’t necessarily easy or certain.
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