back to article NASA blames the wrong kind of Martian rock for Perseverance sample failure

Mars rover Perseverance failed in its first attempt to collect a sample of rock from the Red Planet because the material crumbled to dust, NASA scientists have said. Last week, the nuke-powered science lab extended its robotic arm to bore 7cm into the seemingly hard surface, gather a core of material, and bottle it in a sample …

  1. Gene Cash Silver badge
    Coat

    So... um... the core got dumped?

    Thank you! Thank you! I'll be here all week! Don't forget to tip your waitress!

    1. NoneSuch Silver badge
      Joke

      No one thought to get James Dyson involved? One cordless vacuum and voom... One bin bag full of samples.

  2. TheProf Silver badge
    Joke

    Soft Crumbly Rock?

    ARTHUR: What’s the name of that soft, crumbly sort of rock?

    LINTILLA: But it isn’t rock.

    ARTHUR: Well what is it then?

    LINTILLA: Shoes.

    ARTHUR: What?!

    LINTILLA: Shoes. Billions of them! An entire archaeological layer of compressed shoes.

  3. HildyJ Silver badge
    Pint

    Insight?

    As I understand the problems with the Insight Heat Probe Drill, it sounds like the same sort of issue - what was seen as 'rock' disintegrated rather than holding together or fracturing.

    Up until now, boffins have been limited to studying Mars meteorites and non-invasive scans from Mars missions. Perhaps we're looking at a surface of fine grain regolith, more like Bennu, rather than the more consolidated surface and rocks found on the Moon.

    With science, no result is a result, even if it doesn't make for a good headline.

    Have a pint while you're puzzling it out.

  4. PiltdownMan
    Joke

    Martian Rabbits

    I original thought of the problem as Martian rabbits running along under the veg patch, stealing their "carrots" back from the farmer.

    1. adam 40 Silver badge
      Alien

      Never mind the Rabbits, what about the insects?

      Here's a photo captured by the perseverance rover

      https://pbs.twimg.com/media/E8r3pjnXEAE9IYb?format=jpg&name=medium

  5. jake Silver badge

    It's most likely dry mud from silt settling out.

    That looks an awful lot like the playa down in the Mojave, right down to the "blocks". Exactly what you'd expect in an ancient, dried up lakebed.

    1. Martin Gregorie

      Re: It's most likely dry mud from silt settling out.

      Yes indeed, and mud at the bottom of a lake on a low gravity planet that dried out in an atmosphere thats already getting a bit too thin to blow dust about isn't likely to get compacted into something very strong.

      Consequently, when some robothing tries to cut cores from the lake-bed using a hollow drill fitted with teeth big and sharp enough to cut through hard rock, it follows that the core is likely to disintegrate into something rather like fine sand rather than just standing there.

      I do wonder if they tried using a Perseverance test vehicle to drill holes in dried-out lake-beds in the Mojave or some other, even drier, part of the south-west USA or central Australia. But surely they must have tried that. . . mustn't they?

      1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: It's most likely dry mud from silt settling out.

        I do wonder if they tried using a Perseverance test vehicle to drill holes in dried-out lake-beds in the Mojave or some other, even drier, part of the south-west USA or central Australia. But surely they must have tried that. . . mustn't they?

        I guess budget & time constraints might have prevented test drilling in every potential surface. But maybe it's something that could be done now to compare results to Mars and test theories.

  6. JassMan Silver badge

    Maybe they should have had a spraybottle of water on hand.

    If they had wetted it first, it may have lubricated the drill sufficiently to prevent it it destroying the structure. If it is sand they are drilling, they would just need to wait for nightfall and the water would have frozen to a solid plug. OK, it would be a "contaminated"sample but anything is better than nothing at all.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Maybe they should have had a spraybottle of water on hand.

      "OK, it would be a "contaminated"sample"

      Not if they condensed it out of the atmosphere. It might take a few weeks to collect a large enough quantity, but if there is one thing they've got, it's time.

      I'd be kinda worried about reconstituted mud drying back out and clogging up the works, though ...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Spitting distance from solving this?

        Certainly sounds like the time of day the robot drills and/or extracts the core could be crucial to solving this.

      2. JassMan Silver badge

        Re: Maybe they should have had a spraybottle of water on hand. @Jake

        I made the comment because even if it is atmospheric water, it would still be contaminated. In the spirit of scientific endeavour, one of the the things they surely want to know is how much water exists at various depths and would there be be any chance of distilling water from local sand/dust/shale etc.

        wrt mud clogging up the works, surely this is a natural hazard they have already thought about. Although, since they have already met the wrong kind of rock, maybe not.

        Thinking about the problems though - it seems they could have done with a small hoover to take dust samples from the drill site. Plenty of earthbound drills have attached hoover tubes (to keep the dust from your carpet/softfurnishings) so it wouldn't have been that hard to adapt the technology for the lower atmos pressure. It is obvious from the photo that a sizeable sample could have been obtained from the edge of the hole. If there is enough atmos to fly, there is certainly enough to hoover up a dust sample.

  7. redpawn Silver badge

    You're drilling it wrong.

    It's a feature of the martian landscape not a fault.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: You're drilling it wrong.

      But it has rounded corners‽‽‽

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You crack me up...

      True - faults in the landscape are a whole different problem.

  8. mark4155

    Still a complete waste of money.

    What a waste of money!

    90 overpaid people to drill a bloody hole with nothing to show for it. Even our own council can't beat that record!

    Used parachutes and other mechanical debris littering the planet. Again this is just pure folly.

    I await the usual cascade of downvotes and clever (but misguided) comments.

    Fix the Earth first!

    Citizen Smith.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Still a complete waste of money.

      @mark4155 ...so what did you do today to add to the sum of human knowledge?

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Still a complete waste of money.

        "so what did you do this year to add to the sum of human knowledge?"

        FTFY

    2. Felonmarmer

      Re: Still a complete waste of money.

      If they went there to just drill that one hole, you might have a point.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Still a complete waste of money.

        Oh, I dunno ... they succeeded in drilling that hole. If that were the entire mission profile, it would have been a complete success.

        A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. —Lao Tzu

    3. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Still a complete waste of money.

      Fix the Earth first!

      We have enough resources and people to do both simultaneously. The will? Well, there's a bit of a problem there.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Fix the Earth first!

      You could start by giving up your holiday flights.

      1. TVU

        Re: Fix the Earth first!

        "You could start by giving up your holiday flights"

        What would help there in the short term is switching to more fuel efficient turboprop aircraft for short and medium haul routes. It also has the added advantage that fewer Boeing 737 Max's would be needed.

  9. Mike 137 Silver badge

    The dangers of prior assumptions

    This journey of many millions of miles shouldn't have started before they'd fully considered the range of rock types that might be encountered. It's not as if rock of this kind didn't occur on Earth, as any geologist knows.

    1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: The dangers of prior assumptions

      It is rock (E.T.) science

    2. John Robson Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: The dangers of prior assumptions

      So you're going to design a drill that simultaneously deals with all known rock types, and masses the same as the one they took?

    3. EvilDrSmith Silver badge

      Re: The dangers of prior assumptions

      The problem is that the boring tool you need for one soil or rock type is not the appropriate choice for another soil or rock type.

      Plus the ground can just be a sod (no pun intended) sometimes.

      Even in London, with a well known stratigraphy, site investigation boreholes sometimes come back with 'no recovery' at certain depths, and that happens with (as I just noted) a good idea of what we're boring, the right kit in good condition with good, skilled, drillers operating it.

      I suspect that this thing has basically one type of coring bit, which has to handle any and all rock types its operators want to try and core. From the article, it seems they mistook a very weakly cemented silt (soil) for a more competent rock.

  10. PKrueger

    Sous les pavés, la plage

    1. jake Silver badge

      Rough translation for the mono-lingual:

      They paved paradise and put up a parking lot. —Joni Mitchell, 1970

  11. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    Next time, pack an Electrolux.

    To suck the dust up into a baggy.

    1. gandalfcn Silver badge

      But it was a finger blast!

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Silly Question.

    If the 'rock' is that soft and disintegrates because of the drilling, why not try to get a 'core/partial core' by not spinning the drill.

    Something is better than nothing if the 'core/parial core' can be retreived.

    Shoot downvotes now !!!

    1. EvilDrSmith Silver badge

      Re: Silly Question.

      Not a silly question at all (have an upvote).

      Push-sampling is a standard technique for (trying to) sample soft soils.

      However

      (i) the kit on the rover may not actually be set up to do that

      (ii) if they are set up to core rock, they are probably looking for 'rock from anywhere' rather than 'something from specifically here'.

      So I suspect they'll trundle off and try somewhere else

  13. the Jim bloke Silver badge

    And no one has suggested sending Bruce Willis there to sort out the problem?

    Shame.

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: And no one has suggested sending Bruce Willis there to sort out the problem?

      Can we send Bezos as an assistant?

  14. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge
    Alien

    The sample ...

    ... crawled away before they could get the cap on the tube.

    If some alien ship landed, pulled you out of your comfy hole, tried to stuff you in a container for later delivery to a mother ship and then their home planet, I'd guess that you'd try and escape as well.

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