NASAs Persistence rover will dump its latest Mars test to remove blockage of pebbles from the drill.
Perseverance mission leaders came with the unexpected announcement that they had to dump Percy's latest sample out via a blog post on Friday (January 14). The team even shared in the post that they never thought they would do so, as one of Perseverance's main goals is to pick up Mars samples for future analysis.
"I never imagined we would perform [this maneuver] "Ever," wrote Jennifer Trosper, project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in the blog.
Related: Where to find the latest Mars images from NASA's Perseverance rover
The car-sized rover publicly reported the jammed debris during its sixth rock core seizure on Jan. 7 via the mission's Twitter account and a previous blog post. Engineers have continued to work on the problem to solve the problem without causing damage to the vessel. This fix is likely to require Percy to stay in place for another week or so.
Trosper outlined the steps JPL has taken so far to find a solution. Persistence took pictures of the ground below on January 12, so "we would have a good idea of what rocks and pebbles are already down there," she said. There have also been some "earthly experiments," though Trosper did not elaborate on what exactly that entails.
Rover tests before launch on Earth revealed that evacuation of the drill collection tube is fairly easy to perform, she reported, although this has not yet been tested on windy, dusty Mars, where gravity is a quarter of our own planet.
"We sent commands up yesterday, and later today the rover's robotic arm will simply point the open end of the test tube toward the surface of Mars and let gravity handle the rest," Trosper said, meaning the procedure was likely completed over the past . weekend. Results are expected to be reported on Tuesday (January 18).
The commands will ask the rover to perform rotation tests of its bit carousel to assess the motion of the pebbles, and more information will come from new images taken during Perseverance to see if more "pebbles happen to jump free," she said.
The team is not sure how much of the core stone is still in the pipe, but if the evacuation goes well, they can try to repeat the core drilling. Perseverance caches samples like this for a scheduled sample return mission to be picked up.
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