NASA, ESA’s Ambitious Mars Sample Return Mission To Study Past Life

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Mars is one of the most exciting planets that space researchers have continuously been studying about. In a new bold mission, NASA engineers are planning to collect rock samples from Mars and bring it back to the Earth to collect evidence of past life. It would be one of the most complex robotic space missions till date.

Mars Sample Return Mission: What Is It?
 

Mars Sample Return Mission: What Is It?

The upcoming Mars mission is jointly developed by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). The mission will involve robotic rovers that will gather rock samples, which will be blasted into space and picked up by an unmanned spacecraft and dropped in the Utah desert. The entire mission looks like a throw-and-fetch game, which will ultimately be dropped by parachutes in the desert.

Billions of years ago, the Martian atmosphere and landscape were largely similar to that of the Earth. However, over time, the thick atmosphere and running water on Mars vanished and scientists want to study if there was life before that. The answer could lie in the fossil microbes found on the Martian soil and rocks. Hence, the Martian rock and soil samples (500g of it) will be shared between researchers and scientists worldwide.

Mars Sample Return Mission: When Will It Take Flight?

Mars Sample Return Mission: When Will It Take Flight?

NASA and ESA scientists are working closely on the mission. If everything goes according to the plan, the mission might use the new NASA Mars 2020 rover to collect the samples. According to the current timetable, the Mars 2020 rover is scheduled to Jezero crater in the Syrtis Major region of Mars in early 2021.

"Mars 2020 will collect soil samples, put them in small metal tubes, then seal them. Caches of these tubes will then be left at designated sites on the Martian surface," informed Sanjay Vijendran, a lead member of ESA's Mars Sample Return team. This will be followed by a second spacecraft ‘fetch rover' that will land on Mars and load the samples into a football-sized canister.

Mars Sample Return Mission: Dangers And Challenges
 

Mars Sample Return Mission: Dangers And Challenges

This canister will be taken to a US rocket that will blast the container into orbit around Mars. An Earth-return orbiter will sweep around Mars to capture the canister and send it back to the Earth, which will be released on the Utah desert. As seen, the mission involves multiple levels of complex maneuvers.

Yet, the prospect of finding life on Mars is an exciting phenomenon, which scientists are willing to risk. Researchers are also taking caution that if life still exists on Mars, the canister shouldn't carry potentially dangerous micro-organisms. The canister will be opened only in the laboratory with Biosafety Level 4 containment facilities to avoid dangerous reactions.

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