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Perseverance Finds Success on Second Drilling Mission 

October 18, 2021

Having safely landed on Mars in February of 2021, the Perseverance rover has been exploring the surface of the red planet with much success. In August, the rover attempted one of its key missions— drilling and obtaining rock samples. However, the first attempt came up empty. While the drilling process was successful, no samples actually made it into the collection tube. 

NASA attempted the drilling again in early September, this time on a different rock, and got what they were hoping for —a perfectly drilled core sample of the rock. 

“We got that image of just a spectacular-looking core, a fantastic-looking cylinder, broken off cleanly. It looks geologically very interesting, something scientists of the future will enjoy working on,” says Ken Farley, a Caltech geochemist and project scientist of the Perseverance mission, in an article with Wired reporter Ramin Skibba

NASA confirmed a second sample was successfully captured two days following the first. 

The Perseverance mission is led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California, and while scientists at JPL are excited by the finding they emphasize this is only the beginning. They are still waiting on clearer imaging and definitive confirmation of exactly what was captured. 

The first attempt at drilling was ultimately unsuccessful due to the make up of the rock selected, Skibba explains. The rock was too powdery and the sample was essentially pulverized.  

Still, the drilling failure was information the JPL scientists could use as it, “Yielded evidence suggesting the rock had been weathered, worn down by a river flowing into the lake crater billions of years ago,” says Skibba. 

After JPL has confirmed that a rock sample is present, Perseverance moves on to different areas of the planet to continue to collect samples – up to 43. These samples will be stored within the rover for eventual return to Earth. 

The goal of analyzing these samples is to form a history of the planet and to look for example of habitable environments, such as organic molecules. 

Of the cores collected, “scientists have determined that that rock is basaltic, which means it may represent cooled lava that flowed along the Red Planet's surface,” shares NASA. “In addition, Perseverance has detected salt in the two cores.” 

It is possible that these samples could have been formed from flowing groundwater. 

Perseverance will next be heading to an area of Mars known as South Séítah, where fellow robot, the Ingenuity helicopter, has been exploring the area. Scientists expect the rocks in this area are far older than the one that Perseverance has sampled. 

The story of Perseverance began back in 2014. To learn more, read about the journey of Capitol Tech alumnus Cj Giovingo and their involvement with the Mars 2020 mission, in a two-part Capitology blog interview: Part 1 and Part 2

Want to learn about aviation and unmanned systems, including astronautical engineering? Capitol Tech offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in aviation and unmanned systems. Many courses are available both on campus and online. To learn more about Capitol Tech’s degree programs, contact admissions@captechu.edu.