By the end of the decade, another mission will depart to Mars with the goal of collecting Perseverance’s samples and sending them back to Earth. There are several critical pieces of hardware taking part in this phase of the mission: a lander to bring down to Mars a sample fetch rover, an ascent vehicle to take the samples up into orbit, and an orbiter to catch them and head back to our planet.
In mid-December, NASA said it agreed to advance to Phase A of the program, meaning it “will mature critical technologies and make critical design decisions, as well as assess industry partnerships.”
"Returning samples of Mars to Earth has been a goal of planetary scientists since the early days of the space age, and the successful completion of this MSR key decision point is an important next step in transforming this goal into reality," said in a statement Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
"MSR is a complex campaign, and it encapsulates the very essence of pioneering space exploration – pushing the boundaries of what's capable and, in so doing, furthering our understanding of our place in the universe."
Having pieces of Mars on Earth will open up previously unavailable methods of research thanks to the much more advanced equipment available here, and scientists are hoping to uncover the neighboring planet’s secrets faster this way.