NASA taking ‘step closer to sending humans to Mars’ by sending samples to Earth
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NASA expects to take "one step closer to sending humans to Mars" when it starts collecting Mars samples to be sent back to Earth for analysis.
The space agency will join forces with the the European Space Agency (ESA) after the Mars Sample Return (MSR) plans were given the go-ahead.
An independent review report confirmed NASA is now ready to undertake the project to bring pristine samples from Mars to Earth for scientific study.
The rocks will be collected by NASA's Perseverance Mars rover, which was launched earlier this year and is currently headed for Mars.
The Perseverance mission aims to pave the way for future human expeditions to Mars and will search for signs of ancient microbial life, which will advance NASA's quest to explore the past habitability of Mars while it will also test oxygen production from the Martian atmosphere.
The report concludes that NASA is prepared for the campaign, building on decades of scientific advancements and technical progress in Mars exploration.
The MSR campaign will require three advanced space vehicles.
The first, NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover, is more than halfway to Mars following launch in July.
Aboard Perseverance is a sophisticated sampling system with a coring drill and sample tubes that are the cleanest hardware ever sent to space.
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Once on Mars, Perseverance aims to cache rock and regolith samples in its collection tubes.
It would leave some of them on the Martian surface for an ESA-provided "fetch" rover to collect and deliver to a NASA-provided Mars Ascent Vehicle, which then would launch the samples into orbit around Mars.
An ESA-provided Earth Return Orbiter would then rendezvous with the samples in orbit around Mars and take them in a highly secure containment capsule for return to Earth in the 2030s.
NASA chiefs have now said approval for its groundbreaking plan will bring the space agency even closer to sending humans to Mars.
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“Mars Sample Return is something NASA needs to do as a leading member of the global community,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.
“We know there are challenges ahead, but that’s why we look closely at these architectures. And that’s why in the end, we achieve the big accomplishments.”
“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 Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science at the agency’s headquarters in Washington.
“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.”
Another breakthrough this month could also help put life on Mars, as a paper published in Nature reveals scientists have discovered how to employ microorganisms to mine economically important elements from rocks, including the rare earth elements (REEs), used in electronic industries and alloy production.
The team of scientists in charge of the experiments, carried out on the International Space Station, say they demonstrate "the potential for space biomining and the principles of a reactor to advance human industry and mining beyond Earth".
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