NASA has outlined how, for the first time ever, it plans to bring back rock samples from the Red Planet.
Through their new rover, Perseverance, NASA plans to collect tubes of dust and rock which they want to be sent back to Earth.
According to Nature, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), want to send a pair of spacecraft to Mars in 2026 to collect the samples. Using a smaller rover to collect the samples and return to a “Mars ascent vehicle” which would blast off into orbit.
A second spacecraft would then manouvre itself next to the ascent vehicle and pick up the samples to fly back to Earth.
If it works, in just over 10 years scientists will finally get their hands on rocks from Mars. “What we can learn about Mars in our own laboratories is going to be fantastic,” said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for the Mars exploration programme at NASA headquarters in Washington DC, who outlined the plans at a virtual meeting on 15 April.
“This is by no means a simple task,” says Jim Watzin, head of NASA’s Mars exploration programme in Washington DC. “But we have kept it as simple as possible.”
The two space agencies have divided the work needed to achieve this feat depending on their experience. NASA is in charge of building the sample-retrieval lander and ascent vehicle whereas ESA will focus on the small rover and flying the samples home.
If all goes to plan, the sample-return spacecraft is hoped to reach Mars in 2028 with the whole mission returning to Earth in 2031.
NASA and ESA put out a call this month for scientists interested in helping to plan how those precious samples will be studied.