NASA reveals plans to return rock samples from Mars

NASA reveals plans to return rock samples from Mars

Featured Image Source: NASA

NASA is conducting final preparations to launch the Perseverance rover with the first Mars Helicopter to the Red Planet, about 117.61 million miles away from Earth. Perseverance will launch sometime between July 17 and August 5. The time frame will enable it to land on Mars' Jezero Crater by February 18, 2021. The Jezero crater, once featured an old river delta that could hold signs of ancient Martian life. “We’re actively working on humanity’s first round trip to another planet,” said Jim Watzin, director of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program. The Perseverance rover will be tasked with gathering at least 30 samples to save inside geological sampling tubes. NASA revealed plans to return the first rock samples from Mars. After 4 years of planning, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have completed a plan that involves sending a pair of spacecrafts to Mars in 2026 to bring the samples from the Martian terrain. The plans reveal NASA will develop a miniature rocket to launch from Mars’ surface. No spacecraft has attempted to launch from Mars, it would be the first mission of its kind. The small rocket is called Mars Ascent Vehicle, or MAV. The MAV will be part of the Mars Sample Return mission, will attempt to get the samples out of the Red Planet’s atmosphere and come back to Earth. Scientists want to search for evidence of past life. Dr. Gerhard Kminek, the ESA’s interim Mars Sample Return Program Scientist, said in a recent ESA press release:

“There are many reasons to study Mars, but one of the most pressing is that, while life arose and evolved on Earth, we still don’t know if life had a chance on Mars. Planetary scientists can study rocks, sediments, and soils for clues to uncover the geological and potential biological history of Mars. Then, by comparing those findings with Earth we also learn more about our own planet.”

This week, the agency detailed how it aims to return the samples. First, Perseverance will start gathering samples once it lands in February 2021, the Mars Helicopter will help the rover scout for areas to explore, it features cameras aboard for aerial views. The samples it collects for over a year will be stored in the rover’s cache instrument, which features a series of small geological sampling tubes inside metal cylinders that will be left on the surface for future pick up. Then, in the year 2026 through 2027, the Mars Ascent Vehicle and a small rover will arrive at Mars to pick up the samples. The U.S.-built spacecraft would land in Jezero crater near the Perseverance rover. There, it will deploy a European rover to pick up the small metal sample tubes aboard Perseverance. The samples would then be robotically transferred to the small MAV rocket. The Mars Ascent Vehicle would liftoff from Martian soil to carry the container samples to orbit. A second spacecraft called Earth Return Orbiter, will be awaiting in Mars orbit to pick up the sample container and transport it back to Earth. The ESA-built Earth Return Orbiter, is fitted with NASA-supplied hardware to contain the samples. The spacecraft will arrive to Earth by 2031 through 2032, carrying the samples in an atmosphere re-entry container that will free-fall into a desert in Utah. The container is armored designed to withstand a crash into the ground at high speed. NASA officials say they have tested the container during drop tests, which proved the container will protect the samples. Engineers did not add a parachute to the container carrying the samples from Mars, because they wanted to make sure the samples will return safe even if a parachute fails. Also, scientists designed the capsule strong enough so the extraterrestrial samples do not contaminate Earth upon landing, since it is unknown how exposure could affect humans and the environment.

Read more: NASA attaches Helicopter to Perseverance Rover in preparation for July mission



About the Author

Evelyn Arevalo

Evelyn Arevalo

Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.

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