This story is part of, our series exploring the red planet.
Troubleshooting is an essential skill for any team working with robots on Mars, because the planet is going to mess with your robots. NASA’s Perseverance rover team is working out how to fix. But first, the rover makes a sudden movement, throwing the sample it collected to the ground.
Perseverance drilled and extracted the sample from a rock called Isol in late December, but was unable to complete the delivery of the sample tube from the robotic arm to the bit carousel, a component that passes the tube to the rover for processing. The culprit is a group of small pebbles that must be removed. It’s not quite as simple as asking the rover to shake like a wet dog. NASA is now embarking on a multistep plan to fix it.
First, the rover takes a good look at the ground below so you can watch for changes as you clear off the offending gravel. Next is a robotic arm maneuver. “Simply put, we are returning the remaining contents of the 261 tube sample (our most recent granular rock sample) to its home planet,” project manager Jennifer Trosper wrote in an update to the rover on Friday. Trosper described it as something “I never imagined we’d do — never.”
The team expects disposing of the contents to be very easy, including guiding the open end to the ground and allowing gravity to take over.
The rover is equipped with a set of tube samples that allow it to hide parts of Mars. Samples are a precious cargo, which is why the idea of dumping them seems so strange. But NASA isn’t sure how much rock is still in the sample tube. If the team is able to clear the cobbled obstructions, the rover might try to sample the Esoul a second time to get a more complete portion of the rock.
The next steps will focus on pesky pebbles. NASA is asking the rover to perform some rotation tests of its cutting circuit. “We expect that these drills – and any subsequent gravel movement – will help guide our team, providing them with the necessary information on how to move forward,” Trosper said.
NASA should know by early next week the effect of the circular motions on the pebbles.
Every NASA spacecraft has faced challenges on Mars, fromTo the rocks that do not act. Clever and meticulous solutions helped keep tasks going, so grit likely won’t hold back the work of persistence for long.