It’s NASA’s star, but now Perseverance suffers from several “sore throats” preventing it from functioning.
He was the star of NASA since its arrival on our red neighbor last February. But for the past few days, the rover seems to have had a sore throat. Indeed, the rover has collected its sixth rock sample in recent days, while these small pieces of the red planet must be sealed in test tubes, as in the image below, so that tests can be carried out on Earth.
A second mission should indeed come to Mars in several years to recover the test tubes and bring them back to Earth in the early 2030s. Such an in-depth study of the Martian soil should allow NASA scientists to unlock the last secrets of our neighbor, in particular to answer the crucial question: Did Mars host life in its past?
Proof of life on Mars at your fingertips
Some optimists, like Jean Francois Clervoy confided to us when the rover landed, believe that life could even still exist on Mars, underground. If this theory does not have a consensus today, it is much more accepted that the red planet has surely sheltered life over the past few million years.
NASA hopes that Perseverance will provide evidence of a past presence of life on Mars, even if it is surely only microbial. In order to prove this theory, it is therefore necessary to collect pieces of rock within the crater of Jezero. A task that the rover had tackled with great success so far.
A pebble in the gear
But then, during the last collection attempt, several small pebbles came to seize the gear. When engineers on Earth received warning signals suggesting unexpected resistance, they asked Perseverance to take pictures of its collection area (image below).
Now that the presence of debris is proven, NASA will take its time to clear them. It is indeed the first time that the American space agency must carry out such a procedure. As our post science colleagues remind us, this is not the first time that NASA and JPL, the agency’s laboratory in charge of this mission, have had problems with Perseverance.
The very first collection carried out by NASA was a failure, no rock having entered the test tube. JPL seems to have learned from its mistakes and the four attempts that followed were great successes.