Perseverance Mars rover hits snag while grabbing 14th rock sample

close up of sample collection tube with rock inside
NASA's Perseverance rover collected its 14th Mars rock sample in October 2022 but is having difficulty sealing it up. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA's Perseverance rover is having a bit of trouble with its latest Red Planet sample.

Perseverance, which is exploring Jezero Crater on Mars, drilled out and collected its 14th Martian rock sample over the weekend (Oct. 8 and Oct. 9) but was unable to seal it away in its designated tube.

"The sample is stored safely inside my caching assembly, but some work remains to figure out how to cap and seal the tube," mission team members tweeted (opens in new tab) on Tuesday (Oct. 11).

Related: 12 amazing photos from the Perseverance rover's 1st year on Mars

Perseverance is collecting these Martian samples for a future return to Earth; they could arrive here as early as 2033.

If all goes to plan, Perseverance will deliver its sealed-up tubes to a NASA sample-return lander. A small rocket carried by the lander will launch the tubes into Mars orbit, where they'll be grabbed by an Earth-return spacecraft provided by NASA's partner in the sample return effort, the European Space Agency. (The lander, rocket and Earth-return spacecraft are all in development.)

Perseverance is picking up two samples from each rock it drills. The plan is to keep one set of samples on board and cache the other set in one or more "depots" on Jezero's floor. Should Perseverance have issues moving the rocks to the NASA lander, the sample return mission has a backup: two small "fetch" helicopters will bring the tubes back from the depot(s) one at a time.

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Those helicopters will be based on NASA's Ingenuity helicopter, which accompanied Perseverance to the Martian surface in February 2021. Ingenuity is still going strong; it has now completed 33 sorties on Mars, more than six times more than it was initially expected to perform. 

The latest flight for Ingenuity also ran into the unexpected, however. During a flight in late September, a piece of debris fell away harmlessly from one of the chopper's legs mid-flight. The helicopter landed safely, and an investigation is ongoing.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace