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NASA and ESA Agree on Next Steps to Return Mars Samples to Earth

The first sample depot on Mars will be set up by the organization's Perseverance rover.

With a formal agreement between NASA and its partner ESA, the unprecedented campaign to bring back scientifically chosen samples from Mars took the next stage on October 19. (European Space Agency). A sample tube depot will be built on Mars by the two organisations. The sample depot, or cache, will be at "Three Forks," a region in Jezero Crater close to the base of an old river delta.

This cache will contain samples from carefully chosen rocks on the surface of Mars; these samples can assist explain the origins of Jezero Crater and the evolution of Mars, and they may even hold clues to the presence of prehistoric life.

The fine-grained sedimentary rocks of the delta, which were deposited in a lake billions of years ago, are thought to be the most likely to contain evidence of whether microbial life existed when Mars' climate was very different from what it is today.

According to Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters in Washington, "Samples from another planet have never previously been collected and stored for return to Earth in a scientifically controlled collection." The Mars samples that will be launched for this cache as soon as next month have been vetted by NASA and ESA. A milestone in space exploration will be reached when the first tube is placed on the surface. One element of a comprehensive strategy to guarantee mission success is the cache of samples, which is a duplicate set of the collection that Perseverance will keep on board. As part of the campaign, the Perseverance rover will serve as the main vehicle for transferring the obtained materials to the Mars launch rocket. The replica set will be kept in the Three Forks depot as a backup.

This exploration expedition becomes much more palpable and real by selecting the first depot on Mars. David Parker, director of Human and Robotic Exploration at the ESA, remarked, "Now we have a site to go back to with samples waiting for us there.

The ability of the multidisciplinary worldwide team of engineers and scientists working on Perseverance and Mars Sample Return is demonstrated by the fact that we can put this strategy into action at this point in the mission. A significant de-risking step for the Mars Sample Return Campaign can be seen in the first cache of Martian samples.

The campaign's first phase is already under way. In its first two research campaigns since Perseverance's landing at Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021, the rover has gathered 14 rock-core samples and covered 8.2 miles (13.2 kilometer's) of Martian surface.

The rover examined the floor of the crater, which was once a lakebed, as part of its first research campaign, and discovered igneous rock, which is formed deep below from magma or during volcanic activity at the surface. The study of sedimentary rocks, which were created when particles of varying sizes settled in the once wet environment, has been highlighted by the second scientific campaign.

Three witness tubes and one atmosphere sample have been been obtained by the rover. The material in witness tubes aids in identifying any potential terrestrial contamination that may have entered the tubes from the rover during sampling operations.

According to Ken Farley, a project scientist for the Perseverance mission at Caltech in Pasadena, California, "although an important mission milestone will have taken place once those tubes are dropped, it doesn't imply Perseverance explorations or sample collecting has completed - not by a long shot."

"Up next, we'll climb to the top of the delta, where we'll conduct scientific research and gather more rock cores in a region that satellite photography suggests is geologically rich. There will be lots of fantastic options available in Mars Sample Return.

Another significant accomplishment was the Oct. 1 entry of the Mars Sample Return Program into the Preliminary Design and Technology Completion Phase, or Phase B. The campaign concentrates on completing engineering prototyping, software and legacy hardware assessments, and other risk-mitigation tasks during this phase.

More About the Campaign

By sending carefully chosen samples to Earth for analysis with the most cutting-edge technologies available on the planet, the NASA-ESA Mars Sample Return Campaign will change humanity's understanding of Mars. A top priority since the 1970s and in the previous three National Academy of Sciences Planetary Decadal Surveys, the programme would achieve the goal of solar system exploration.

The first mission to bring back samples from another planet and the first launch from the surface of another planet would both occur as a result of this strategic NASA and ESA alliance.

The best chance to learn about Mars' early evolution, including the possibility of life, is believed to be in the samples that Perseverance gathered while exploring an old river delta. All the rocky planets in the solar system, including Earth, would be better understood if we had a better grasp of Mars' past.

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