In 100 days, NASA’s Perseverance Wanderer It will land on the surface of Mars and begin missions on the red planet. While roaming Mars, robot explorers will collect rock samples and set them aside for future return to Earth.
The Mars Sample Return mission is the first attempt to collect a physical sample from another planet and then examine it in a laboratory on Earth.
Although it sounds challenging, NASA has just received “approval” from the Independent Review Board, confirming that the space agency is actually ready to undertake this unprecedented mission, but it did not proceed according to the original schedule.
NASA released a review report on its Mars sample return mission on Tuesday. The report concluded that the space agency has prepared for the upcoming mission, which will completely change scientists̵
NASA established the “Mars Sample Return Independent Review Committee” to evaluate the agency’s initial concept of how to perform the mission.
“After a comprehensive review of the agency’s plans for the past few years, the IRB agreed that NASA is now ready to implement the MSR program, which is the next step in robotic exploration of Mars,” retired Orbital President and CEO David Thompson ATK and Chairman of the Board of Directors Speaking on Tuesday’s media conference call.
The review committee includes 10 scientists and engineers who held 25 meetings from late August 2019 to the end of October this year. According to NASA, the committee made 44 recommendations to address potential areas of concern related to program scope and management, technical methods, timelines, and funding.
“As the first round-trip mission to another planet, [Mars Sample Return] Thompson added that the plan is ambitious, technically demanding and complex. Therefore, we strongly recommend that the plan should adopt strict technical and management methods and be fully consistent with NASA’s recent missions.
One of the board’s main recommendations is to postpone the launch date of the Mars Sample Return mission from 2026 to 2027 or 2028.
The original plan is still in the early stages of development, including two launches in 2026, one to send the European Space Agency’s Earth Return Orbiter to Mars, and the other to be carried out with NASA’s sample retrieval lander.
The orbiter will orbit Mars, and NASA’s lander will land a fixed lander near the Jezero Crater landing site of the Perseverance rover, the Sample Fetch Rover provided by ESA and a small rocket “Mars Ascent Vehicle.”
Once the robotic arm has collected the samples, Hengxin will store the samples there.
The rover will then pick up the rock sample, seal it in a test tube, and transport it back to the small rocket. The rocket will be launched into the orbit of Mars, and the sample will be dropped during the flight, which will then be picked up by ESA’s orbiter.
If everything goes according to plan and complex space operations are completed, then scientists will be able to obtain the first sample returned from another planet.
This is not just any planet. Due to its complicated history, Mars has attracted special attention from scientists. Although Mars is a dry and desolate world today, scientists believe that the “Red Planet” was once a warm, humid world, which may contain some form of life.
Examining Martian rocks will help scientists figure out the billion-year history of Earth’s development and look for signs of ancient Martian life.
Previous NASA rovers analyzed the rocks while roaming the surface of the red planet. But laboratory analysis is at a completely different level.
Maria Zuber, MIT board member and vice president of research, compared it with a sample of the moon returned from the Apollo mission.
Zuber said on the conference call: “We have done a lot of analysis on the Martian rocks on the surface of Mars. Obviously these analyses are very valuable for improving our understanding of the early history of the Earth.”
She said: “But what can be done to transport the rock back to the laboratory, just like the lunar rock we brought back 50 years ago, we are still making the most advanced discoveries because the laboratory instruments are constantly improving.”
By analyzing Martian rocks, scientists can determine the age of the sample and understand its geological background, which will allow them to reconstruct the history of the sample collection area.
NASA will review and resolve the committee’s recommendations before starting to finalize the sample return mission plan next year.