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Watch Perseverance Mars rover spit out a stuck rock after choking on sample

NASA's Perseverance rover managed to spit out a stuck piece of rock that had been blocking its sampling gear.
NASA's Perseverance rover managed to spit out a stuck piece of rock that had been blocking its sampling gear. (Image credit: NASA)

NASA's Perseverance rover managed to spit out pieces of rock that had been blocking its Mars-sampling gear since late December. 

Although the un-choking procedure hadn't been previously tested, the engineers on the Mars mission found it was rather "straightforward," the team said in an earlier blog post. It involved pointing the drill containing a clogged test tube to the ground and rotating it at speed until the rocks fell out. 

The team even managed to capture the moment when the Perseverance rover spat out the pebbles with its Mastcam-Z science camera. The video, shared on Twitter, shows the rover's drill rotating as a small piece of rock comes out onto the red Martian surface. 

Related: Tour Mars' Jezero Crater with this gorgeous Perseverance rover mosaic (video)

"In order to keep #SamplingMars, I've emptied my latest partial sample," the team said in the tweet. "Watch closely to see one piece of cored rock drop to the surface in this movie. Thankfully, I can reuse this tube for another sample from the same rock."

The unclogging procedure took place in two steps, with the first part of the stuck sample dislodged on Saturday (Jan. 15) and the rest coming out after some extra effort on Thursday (Jan. 20).

The sampling attempt was the sixth carried out by Perseverance since its landing on Mars in February last year. The rover is building a collection of rock samples that will be brought to Earth in the early 2030s by a Mars sample mission that is being developed jointly by NASA and the European Space Agency

The engineers realized something was wrong on Dec. 29, when the rover's robotic arm attempted to place the freshly drilled sample into the rover's bit carousel, a rotating wheel-like structure on its chassis that stores the samples. The data revealed resistance when the arm tried to seal the tube with the sample.

The ill-fated sample originated from a rock that scientists call Issole. The team might attempt to drill into this rock once more, the engineers said in the statement. 

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Tereza is a London-based science and technology journalist, aspiring fiction writer and amateur gymnast. Originally from Prague, the Czech Republic, she spent the first seven years of her career working as a reporter, script-writer and presenter for various TV programmes of the Czech Public Service Television. She later took a career break to pursue further education and added a Master's in Science from the International Space University, France, to her Bachelor's in Journalism and Master's in Cultural Anthropology from Prague's Charles University. She worked as a reporter at the Engineering and Technology magazine, freelanced for a range of publications including Live Science, Space.com, Professional Engineering, Via Satellite and Space News and served as a maternity cover science editor at the European Space Agency.