NASA’s Perseverance space rover has failed in its first attempt to take a rock sample on Mars, the US space agency reported on Friday.
This was to have been the first of about 30 rock samples to be taken back to Earth over a number of years to be analysed there, according to the agency.
Earlier on Friday, NASA had published photos clearly showing – next to the shadow of the vehicle – a small mound with a hole in its centre, the first dug by the robot on the red planet.
Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, initially tweeted that sampling had begun. However, data transmitted back to Earth by the rover showed that no sample was obtained in the first attempt.
“While this is not the ‘hole-in-one’ we hoped for, there is always a risk with breaking new ground,” Zurbuchen said later in a press release. “I’m confident we have the right team working on this, and we will persevere toward a solution to ensure future success.”
The process of collecting a sample of Mars rock the size of a stick of chalk and sealing it in an air-tight tube should take a total of 11 days.
The aim is to look for signs of ancient life on the planet, such as traces of germs fossilised in the rocks, but also to understand Martian geology.
The mission took off from Florida just over a year ago.
The module, which has the size of a large SUV, landed on 18 February at the Jezero Crater which, scientists believe, was a deep lake 3.5 billion years ago, the type of environment that could have created the conditions required for extra-terrestrial life.
NASA plans to send a mission in the 2030s to bring the samples to Earth so that they can be analysed using far more sophisticated instruments than can be deployed now on Mars.