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This article was published on August 12, 2021

NASA believes it’s solved the mystery of the missing Martian rock

Don't blame poor Perseverance

NASA believes it’s solved the mystery of the missing Martian rock
Thomas Macaulay
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Thomas Macaulay

Writer at Neural by TNW — Thomas covers AI in all its iterations. Likes Werner Herzog films and Arsenal FC. Writer at Neural by TNW — Thomas covers AI in all its iterations. Likes Werner Herzog films and Arsenal FC.

NASA believes it’s discovered why a chunk of Martian rock mysteriously vanished.

The Perseverance rover had tried to collect the sample as part of its search for signs of ancient life on the red planet.

Perseverance used its seven-foot-long robotic arm to bore into the Martian surface and grab the rock.

Data confirmed the drill had reached the proper depth. Telemetry and photos confirmed the sample tube had been sealed and placed in storage. There was only one problem: the container was empty.

The Perseverance team was baffled. Had the robotic arm malfunctioned? Did an irate Martian intervene in the attempted theft of its land? Not according to NASA. The space agency is blaming the failure on the rock.

Why Perseverance's rock went missing.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The shadow of Perseverance and its first drill hole can be seen on the left image. A composite image of the borehole is shown on the right.

Scientists came to this conclusion after analyzing photos and depth measurements of the borehole. The data showed that the rover’s drill had ground the fragile core into powder and small fragments.

The hardware performed as commanded but the rock did not cooperate this time,” wrote Louise Jandura, the chief engineer for Perseverance‘s sampling and caching, in a blog post.

The fiasco has led NASA to search for stronger rocks in South Seitah, another area of Mars’ Jezero Crater.

Perseverance is expected to make its second sampling attempt in early September.

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