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NASA Ready to Bring Pieces of Mars Back to Earth

As you’re reading this, an Earth starship carrying the Perseverance rover is hurdling towards the Red Planet. It should get there in February 2021, and embark on never-before-attempted missions. Including storing samples of Mars so that a subsequent mission could pick them up and return them to our planet.
NASA Mars Ascent Vehicle rendering 1 photo
The idea behind this plan is pretty simple: Perseverance is to pick pieces of the neighboring planet (at least 20 samples), store them in special containers and leave them "in a well-identified place, or more than one spot, on the surface of Mars,” from where a subsequent mission could pick them up.

Called Sample Return, the mission is the joint work of NASA and its European counterpart, ESA. It should be up and running by the end of the decade, with the landing on Mars of the platform from which a small ESA machine called the Sample Fetch Rover would depart looking for the recipients left behind by Perseverance.

The mission is still in its early stages, and NASA needed a second opinion on its plans. For that, it established the Mars Sample Return Independent Review Board for the evaluation of the project. Last week, the results were in, and the mission seems to be a go, as NASA was found to be “ready to undertake its Mars Sample Return (MSR) campaign to bring pristine samples from Mars to Earth for scientific study.”

“NASA is committed to mission success and taking on great challenges for the benefit of humanity, and one way we do that is by ensuring we are set up to succeed as early as possible,” said in a statement Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science.

“I thank the members of this board for their many hours of work resulting in a very thorough review. We look forward to continued planning and mission formulation in close partnership with ESA. Ultimately, I believe this sample return will be well worth the effort and help us answer key astrobiology questions about the Red Planet – bringing us one step closer to our eventual goal of sending humans to Mars.”

You can read more about the Mars Sample Return mission at this link. The board’s review of the mission is available here.

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