A new video released by the National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) highlights the various teams and equipment working to retrieve the samples already collected by the Perseverance rover and bring them back to Earth for closer study. Planned for the end of the decade, this mission will break new ground in robotics, landing, launch capabilities and other technologies highlighted in the video.
BACKGROUND: MARS SAMPLE RETURN A HUGE UNDERTAKING
NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on the red planet in February of 2021, and immediately began its science activities. This included collecting and storing a handful of soil samples that researchers hope contain evidence of Mars’ watery past, maybe even microscopic life. Unfortunately, storing these samples was just the first step. That’s because researchers are planning to bring those samples back to Earth where they can be analyzed with equipment too heavy and complex to include on a rover mission.
Now, the new video released by the American space agency highlights the teams and equipment behind this historic effort, as well as the progress being made toward the actual sample return mission.
“NASA’s Mars Sample Return (MSR) will revolutionize our understanding of Mars by returning scientifically-selected samples for study using the most sophisticated instruments around the world,” explains the post that accompanies the new video. “The mission will fulfill a solar system exploration goal, a high priority since 1980 and the last two National Academy of Sciences Planetary Decadal Surveys.”
ANALYSIS: NASA AND ESA PREPARATIONS ALREADY UNDERWAY
Specifically, the ESA (the European Space Agency) is developing the mission’s rover, while engineers at NASA’s Glenn Research Center are designing its wheels. Once the samples are collected from Perseverance, this new rover will transfer them to a lander currently under development at NASA’s Jet propulsion Laboratory.
Next, a robotic arm developed by ESA will pack the samples into a small rocket known as the Mars Ascent Vehicle, which is also under development by folks at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. This rocket will deliver the payload to a Mars orbiter also under development by the ESA, and once inside the orbiter, a robotic system under development by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center will prepare the sample for the long flight back to Earth. This preparation, the press release notes, “would include sealing the sample capsule within a clean container to trap any Martian material inside, sterilizing the seal, and placing the sealed container into an Earth-entry capsule before the return trip to Earth.”
OUTLOOK: NASA VIDEO CHARTS IMPRESSIVE PROGRESS
The new video from NASA highlights all of the pieces of equipment being prepared for this first of its kind mission, as well as a number of the scientists and engineers working at facilities across the globe to make it happen, making it a must watch for those anticipating the mission.
“This strategic partnership of NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) will be the first mission to return samples from another planet, including the first launch and return from the surface of another planet,” explains the NASA post. “These samples collected by Perseverance during its exploration of an ancient river-delta are thought to be the best opportunity to reveal the early evolution of Mars, including the potential for life.”
Follow and connect with author Christopher Plain on Twitter:@plain_fiction