NASA’s Perseverance Rover Successfully Cores Its First Rock


NASA’s Perseverance Rover Successfully Cores Its First Rock

The drill hole from Perseverance’s second sample-collection attempt can be seen, in this composite of two images taken on Sept. 1, by one of the rover’s navigation cameras.Credits: NASA/JPL-CaltechFull image and caption

Perseverance will obtain additional imagery of the sample tube before potentially completing the process of collecting its first scientifically-selected Mars sample

Data received late Sept. 1 from NASA’s Perseverance rover indicate the team has achieved its goal of successfully coring a Mars rock. The initial images downlinked after the historic event show an intact sample present in the tube after coring. However, additional images taken after the arm completed sample acquisition were inconclusive due to poor sunlight conditions. Another round of  images with better lighting will be taken before the sample processing continues.

Obtaining additional imagery prior to proceeding with the sealing and storing of Mars rock sample is an extra step the team opted to include based on its experience with the rover’s sampling attempt on Aug. 5. Although the Perseverance mission team is confident that the sample is in the tube, images in optimal lighting conditions will confirm its presence.

Perseverance’s Sampling and Caching System uses a rotary-percussive drill and a hollow coring bit at the end of its 7-foot-long (2-meter-long) robotic arm to extract samples slightly thicker than a pencil. Within the bit during coring is a sample tube. After completing yesterday’s coring, Perseverance maneuvered the corer, bit, and open end of the sample tube in order to be imaged by the rover’s Mastcam-Z instrument. The target for the sample collection attempt was a briefcase-size rock belonging to a ridgeline that is more than half-a-mile (900 meters) long and contains rock outcrops and boulders.

NASA’s Perseverance rover shows a sample tube with its cored-rock contents inside

This Sept. 1 image from NASA’s Perseverance rover shows a sample tube with its cored-rock contents inside. The bronze-colored outer-ring is the coring bit. The lighter-colored inner-ring is the open end of the tube, and inside is a rock core sample slightly thicker than a pencil. In a later image, the rock sample was not clearly evident inside the tube. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS Full image and caption

The initial set of images from Mastcam-Z showed the end of a cored rock within the sample tube. After taking these images, the rover began a procedure called “percuss to ingest,” which vibrates the drill bit and tube for one second, five separate times. The movement is designed to clear the lip of the sample tube of any residual material. The action can also cause a sample to slide down farther into the tube. After the rover finished the percuss-to-ingest procedure, it took a second set of Mastcam-Z images. In these images, the lighting is poor, and internal portions of the sample tube are not visible.

“The project got its first cored rock under its belt, and that’s a phenomenal accomplishment,” said Jennifer Trosper, project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “The team determined a location, and selected and cored a viable and scientifically valuable rock. We did what we came to do. We will work through this small hiccup with the lighting conditions in the images and remain encouraged that there is sample in this tube.” 

Commands uplinked to the rover earlier today will result in images of the corer and tube to be acquired tomorrow, Sept. 3, at times of day on Mars when the Sun is angled in a more favorable position. Photos will also be taken after sunset to diminish point-sources of light that can saturate an image. The photos will be returned to Earth early in the morning of Sept. 4.

If the results of this additional imaging remain inconclusive, the Perseverance team still has several options to choose from going forward, including using the Sampling and Caching System’s volume probe (located inside the rover’s chassis) as a final confirmation of the sample being in the tube.

Rover’s drill with no cored rock sample evident in the sample tube

Taken Sept. 1 by Mastcam-Z after Perseverance’s sample-coring activities, this image shows the rover’s drill with no cored rock sample evident in the sample tube. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

The Sept. 1 coring is the second time that Perseverance has employed its Sampling and Caching System since landing in Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021.

More About Perseverance

A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith.

Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA, would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.

The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.

JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages operations of the Perseverance rover.

For more about Perseverance:


5 10 votes
Article Rating
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Ron Long
September 4, 2021 3:27 am

Good job of sample collection. The drill setup looks like the traditional diamond coring drills here on tierra firma. So now they store the core samples and wait for a future Mars mission to retrieve them? Maybe Alexy and the Australians can bring them back?

Captain climate
September 4, 2021 3:55 am

I’m getting skeptical of the entire Mars mission hype.

Tom in Florida
September 4, 2021 4:40 am

But can it core a apple?

Frank from NoVA
September 4, 2021 4:59 am

“Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA, would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis”

That’ll happen. I like science as much as the next guy, but I have to wonder how they got approval for this mission.

Mike Lowe
Reply to  Frank from NoVA
September 4, 2021 12:48 pm

What Authority would have the authority to approve, or not?

September 4, 2021 6:09 am

Two thoughts:

1 – Couldn’t they afford a camera with a flash?

2 – (A half remembered story) Two scientists were near the bottom of the ocean in their diving bell thingie. One was hogging the window and finally realized it. He offered the window to his co-worker who replied that he was getting a much better view on a TV monitor. It raises the question about why it was necessary to have people in the diving bell in the first place.

Lots of people make a compelling argument that we have to get off this planet but, given the capabilities of robotic space exploration, exploring the universe isn’t one of them.

Thomas Burk
Reply to  commieBob
September 4, 2021 8:10 am

Perseverance is one of the most sophisticated robots ever built. Yet it is struggling to successfully cache even one rocky core. This would be laughably trivial if it was a manned mission.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Thomas Burk
September 4, 2021 8:57 am

Good point. One geologist on Mars would be worth a truckload of rovers.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Tom Abbott
September 4, 2021 12:18 pm

One geologist on Mars would probably become a dead geologist on Mars.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
September 4, 2021 1:55 pm

Eventually. It could be that there will be a way to create the necessaries of life on Mars. That strategy might be more practical than a two way trip.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  commieBob
September 4, 2021 2:14 pm

Current and near future propulsion technologies, and the resulting realities of orbital transfers between Earth and Mars means long stays on Mars or in orbit (even worse than staying on Mars surface). Even if transit times can be minimized, Mars explorers are gonna have to wait 180-200 days on Mars until Earth-Mars orbial alignments become favorable for the transit. That’s a lot of food water, and oxygen they will have to bring with them. That’s assuming they can stay in radiation protected structures. With no Mars magnetoshield from GCRs and possibility of high energy solar protons from a CME event reaching them are far above the human safety limits that NASA uses for evaluating risk.

Robert Alfred Taylor
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
September 4, 2021 4:06 pm

See Robert Zubrin’s The Case for Mars. On average the radiation dose of the long stay Mars mission produces fewer cancers than heavy smoking during the same period. An astronaut who gave up smoking for the mission would return healthier. That’s ignoring zero g time, which NASA insist upon, for no good reason. (OK, micro-gravity, if you’re a pedant.)

Robert Alfred Taylor
Reply to  Robert Alfred Taylor
September 4, 2021 4:10 pm

Oops! Several astronauts have already received greater radiation doses than the long stay Mars mission, with no detectable ill effects.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Robert Alfred Taylor
September 4, 2021 4:25 pm

The types of radiation received are very important. That is why the Seivert scale was invented and is now dominant in biological considerations of radiation effects.

The types of radiation that astronauts recieve in LEO is far different than the types of radiation the Apollo astronauts faced or even much longer exposures for a 700-800 day Mars return mission.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Robert Alfred Taylor
September 5, 2021 8:37 am

And radiation protection could be added in the form of a protective cover of water ice. One meter of water ice will protect a person from lethal radiation in space.

And artificial gravity equivalent to the gravity on the surface of the Earth is possible in both Earth/Mars transfer vehicles and orbiting habitats.

All the problems of travelling to Mars and living there can be solved by taking the proper course of action. The problems can be solved It’s just a matter of doing it.

The Moon Walker, Buzz Aldrin, has a very good plan for travelling to and from Mars on his website. He calls these Earth/Mars transfer vehicles “Cycling Space Station”.

This would be the direction I would take if I were in charge of the Mars program.

How about repurposing the habitat modules of the International Space Station as Cycling Space Stations orbiting between the Earth and Mars. The ISS is retiring these habitation modules in a couple of years, and are just going to throw them away, otherwise.

I would take a couple of them and string a mile-long cable between the two and then rotate the two modules around their common center at a rate of one revolution per minute, which would produce artificial gravity in the modules equivalent to the gravity at the surface of the Earth. This could serve as a proof of concept.

Cover the habitat modules with a one-meter-thick coating of water ice and we would have a perfect vehicle for taking people safely to Mars and back to Earth.

Depending on how many Aldrin Cycling Space Stations were put in service, we could have one swinging by the Earth every few months.

Go meet the Cycling Space Station as it comes close, and change crews/cargo, and away it goes back to Mars. Around and around we go.

Artificial gravity and Water Ice and Cycling Space Stations. That sounds like a plan to me.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Robert Alfred Taylor
September 5, 2021 7:50 am

“(OK, micro-gravity, if you’re a pedant.)”

One has to cover all the bases. 🙂

Reply to  Thomas Burk
September 4, 2021 11:23 am

There is something very strange about the photo of the end of the drill with the rock core in it. I was drilling in concrete with my rotary hammer drill just yesterday. It generates a lot of drill dust (powdered rock). There isn’t a single spec of dust on that drill in the photo. It’s pristine clean like it just came out of the factory.

Vibrating the drill afterward like they indicated will probably remove small particles from the structure but definitely not the dust. That stuff clings to to the bit and everything around it!!

Just now I went down to try and blow off my drill bit with compressed air and see if I could make it look brand new again (it was a new bit and I only drilled 4 holes with it). I could not. And I also doubt that the rover’s robot arm could wipe itself that clean with a rag if it had one!

There is drill dust visible in the photo of the rock with the hole they just drilled but even that is strange too. Anyone who has used a rotary hammer drill knows that as the the rock dust comes out of the hole it accumulates in a pile around the drill bit like a small volcano, even when the surface being drilled into is on a slope. Only when drilling on a vertical surface or when the drill is an air drill would the drill dust fall away from the hole as cleanly as shown in that photo.

The drill bit shown in that photo does not look like it drilled that hole. Someone please convince me otherwise.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Cool-Engineer
September 4, 2021 12:51 pm

A closeup of the hole. You can see a small annular ring of material around the hole and dust that fell away in a spreading fan to the surface below the rock itself.

What you fail to appreciate about Mars is the extreme desiccation of everything. No moisture (free water) and the minerals are all very dehydrated. The surface tension of water and the hydro-static bonding (even at microscopic dust sizes) makes particles cling together here on Earth. The extremely dry dust on Mars just falls away on that sloped rock surface.

Reply to  Cool-Engineer
September 4, 2021 1:13 pm

There is a container of compressed N2 to use for the purpose of clearing dust away…they have practiced this chore. I see a small broken piece of the rock that would make a nice sample like the moon rocks. I guess the weight of rock samples is important for Mars missions.

Reply to  Thomas Burk
September 4, 2021 11:37 am

It would not be laughably trivial to deploy a manned mission. So this would not be laughably trivial if it was a manned mission.

Bryan A
Reply to  commieBob
September 4, 2021 8:32 am

Part of the problem is communication time due to distance. Talking to astronauts on the Lunar Surface takes about 1.5 seconds to get there so about a 3 second gap between people having a conversation (or sending commands to a rover and knowing they were received) is easy.
Mars, at closest approach (same side of the Sun) is just over 3 Minutes one way and 22.5 minutes one way, taking up to 45 minutes to give a command and know it has been received. Then taking another 22+ minutes to see the results of the command.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  commieBob
September 4, 2021 9:01 am

Exploring is in the human DNA.

Human being will move into space, and probably sooner than some expect. Assuming the Chicoms don’t close the gate.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  commieBob
September 4, 2021 12:44 pm

To your point, today most commercially oriented working deep submersibles are indeed remotely operated. It can take a deep submersible hours to reach extreme depths, and once there if humans were on-board, its working time at extreme depth would be quite limited. Not so with ROVs. Either tethered or free running they can stay down at depth for long periods. In the commercial world, depth beyond 500 meters (where even deep manned scubadiving bells cannot operate), there’s no need to take on the liabilities of manned submersibles at extreme depths.

The Byford Dolphin explosive decompression accident of 1983 was huge wakeup call to the industry.

Gregg Eshelman
Reply to  commieBob
September 4, 2021 11:08 pm

Humans on Mars could complete in minutes the work it takes these rovers days or weeks to complete. Given a long range vehicle it would only take hours for a human crew to do as much work as Opportunity took 14 years to do while traveling just over 26 miles.

Humans can see a wide area and in a very short time identify interesting stuff to look at, prioritize which to check out first, then examine in-situ, take pictures, then collect the whole item or drill a core sample or hammer a chunk off faster than a remote rover can send one image back to Earth from Mars.

It took Opportunity 14 years to move 26 miles in part because of the wait times for information to go back and forth but also for humans on Earth to decide what to have the rover do, and how to do it, then often how to change things when the first attempt failed. Selecting a movement route just to get to the next testing and sampling site had to go through the same process.

Humans on site can simply look around and walk and do things without needing to wait for decisions from Earth.

Thomas Gasloli
September 4, 2021 8:12 am

I’m confused. Once they get a core what are they going to do with it? Please don’t answer, “check for microbial life.”

Reply to  Thomas Gasloli
September 4, 2021 8:34 am

If a geologist was on site the core would put in a core box and logged, all while being examined for visible gold.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Thomas Gasloli
September 4, 2021 8:58 am

I think Musk is going to bring them back with him after he leaves Mars.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Tom Abbott
September 4, 2021 12:21 pm

Musk isn’t stupid enough to go to Mars himself. He’s even said as much, i.e. that Mars will remain a one-way trip for the foreseeable future. In 2017, Musk said at the International Astronautical Congress that the first humans to journey to Mars should be “prepared to die.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
September 5, 2021 10:10 am

I was just kidding, Joel.

Musk says a lot of things.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
September 5, 2021 11:30 pm

In the late Eighteenth century the trip to Australia [as it was later called] took about the same time as would a journey to Mars today. For many who made that journey it was a one-way trip, though their costs were paid for by the government. However it was not long before plenty of people made the trip voluntarily.

Similarly from the 17th to the 21st century many people were willing to take what they would have believed to be a one-way trip from their homes, family and friends in Europe [and later Latin America] to North America/USA.

September 4, 2021 9:14 am

What a pile of schist

Joel O'Bryan
September 4, 2021 1:12 pm

Another cool thing that is going on is the Ingenuity helicopter is still flying and scouting ahead for the rover, and keeping up with the Perseverance rover. It has made 12 flights so far, with 13th scheduled for today.
comment image

Sadly, summer solstice has just past. Pereverence-Ingenuity are at 18.4ºN Mars lat and summer solstice was August 25, 2021. So the days are now getting shorter and the cold nights getting longer. So solar powered Ingenuity’s shortening sol-days are going to start severely limiting how long it can fly and number of days between flights longer to recharge the batteries. Of course, small heaters have to run at night to keep the helicopter’s electronics and batteries from getting too cold, a problem that will keep getting worse now. Ingenuity death by cold and depleted batteries will inevitably happen in the coming months.

Last edited 1 year ago by Joel O’Bryan
Tom Abbott
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
September 5, 2021 10:11 am

That helicopter was a great addition to the Mars mission.

molon labe
September 4, 2021 4:31 pm

Wonder if the boffins at Caltech bought the drill at Home Depot? I’m a Makita man myself but a lot of folks like DeWalt and Milwaukee. I’d stay away from Black and Decker. All the same it’s a very impressive – and expensive – accomplishment. Good on JPL. At least someone in this country is doing real, worthwhile science.

Reply to  molon labe
September 5, 2021 8:29 am

My money is on Hilti, makers of the best drilling and anchoring systems.

September 7, 2021 12:18 pm

I think an impact hammer drill could have done a lot more by now to get some fresh rock faces and samples, or maybe just a swinging rock hammer. Did anyone (NASA contractor) bring any dynamite?

%d bloggers like this:
Verified by MonsterInsights