The first interplanetary return campaign for humanity is now underway.
NASA car size The perseverance of Mars was released yesterday (July 30), Embarking on a nearly seven-month cruise to the Red Planet.
Perseverance will hunt down ancient signs Life on Mars after 2021 February Crater Lake, which had a lake and river delta billions of years ago. But the nuclear robot will also collect and house at least 20 samples of the rocks and soil of the Red Planet to return to Earth in the future, allowing scientists to examine the material in much more detail than perseverance could ever master alone.
Returned examples can “change our understanding of life on Earth and elsewhere in the solar system, ”said Tom Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA̵7;s Science Mission Directorate, at a pre-launch press conference on Tuesday (July 28).
Live updates: NASA’s Mars Rover Persistence Mission in Real Time
More: NASA’s Mars Perseverance March to the Red Planet (photos)
An innovative campaign
NASA has previously conducted sample return missions. Apollo astronauts brought home 842 pounds. (382 kilograms) lunar rocks for example, from 1969 to 1972, and agencies Stardust mission 2006 month of January. comet dust spots returned to Earth.
In addition, NASA The mission of OSIRIS-REx is preparing to hook samples of the asteroid Benter, which will produce it in 2023. in September, if all goes according to plan. NASA is not one of the only role models in the return game. Japanese Hayabusa2 probe will unload pieces of the asteroid Ryugu this December, and the original Hayabusa returned the stony asteroid Itokawa to Earth in 2010.
However, no one has yet successfully completed an interplanetary pattern return mission and it is not difficult to see why. Such efforts are extremely complex, time-consuming and costly, especially when material returning to Earth can be signed. alien life. (Russia tried to send a return mission called Phobos-Grunt to the Phobos of Mars in 2011, but the spacecraft crashed back to Earth after the crash.)
Consider the perseverance campaign you have just started. The nuclear engine is powered by dozens of carefully selected specimens, storing expensive material in sterile tubes that will be stored somewhere in the Lake Crater. (Members of the mission team said that perseverance can interfere with some examples.)
The next step, if all goes according to the current (interim) plan, will come with two launches in 2026. One launch will send the NASA-led Sample Retrieval Lander (SRL) mission to Mars, and the second will take place in the attic Earth Return Orbiter. (ERO), assisted by the European Space Agency.
The SRL includes a rocket and a small, ESA-equipped, “taken rover” that will do exactly what its name suggests: find the specimens stored in the tank and return them to the ground. The samples will be stacked in a football-sized can on a rocket that will take to orbit on Mars.
Ascending the rocket, it will deploy a sample canister that the ERO will push out of the void and lift back toward Earth. As it approaches our planet, the ERO will release a canister, which in 2031. Descend the Utah Desert.
Samples from Mars will then be transported to a location not yet identified, where scientists will begin to inventory their newly delivered cosmic treasure.
Much of the initial assessment will ensure that the material of Mars does not endanger life on Earth. This is beyond doubt, given that the Red Planet was inhabited in the ancient past and some parts of it, such as the underground aquifers, can still sustain life as we know it today.
Therefore, the host facility project will be modeled in laboratories handling and testing the most dangerous infectious pathogens on Earth, said Lisa Pratt, NASA’s planetary protection officer.
“We don’t even think there will be anything pathogenic or very dangerous from Mars,” he said. Pratt said at a news conference. “But we’ll be especially careful.”
Again, the search plan for NASA and ESA is not yet complete; dates or other information are subject to change. But overhaul is unlikely.
Related: Mars Life Search (photo timezone)
Better than meteorites
Scientists have been researching pieces of Mars here on Earth for decades, the rocks of the Red Planet that hit Earth after being hit by space with powerful shocks. In fact, one such Martian meteorite, known as Allan Hills 84001, is one that some scientists have interpreted as probable signs of life on the Red Planet. (However, most other researchers find the evidence unconvincing and the debate continues to this day.)
Members of the mission team said the persistence samples would be scientifically superior to these previously studied Red Planet stones.
For starters, the meteorites of Mars are almost undamaged; they went through journeys through two planetary atmospheres and millions of miles deep in space, and were on the surface of our awkward, life-form for a long time. But the material chosen for perseverance is NASA’s $ 2.7 billion centerpiece The mission of Mars 2020, will be hermetically sealed immediately after assembly.
In addition, Martian meteorites are random pieces that are usually volcanic and young. On the other hand, the rocks of the Lake Crater are billions of years old and preserve the history of a potentially habitable environment. And the rover team will choose the most interesting examples from this already promised party.
“The great thing about perseverance is that instead of choosing nature for us, we will have to choose which rocks return to Earth, along with careful documentation of where and why they were collected,” said Chris Herd of the University of Alberta on July 28. At a news conference, Canada said Mars 2020 is back with examples.
Mike Wall is the author of Out There (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book on the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.