NASA is asking the public to comment on the environmental assessment of its efforts to return samples from Mars.
The project, carried out in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA), aims to bring samples collected by the Perseverance rover back to Earth, possibly as early as 2033. Once they’re here, scientists in labs around the world will scrutinize them for signs of life on Mars and clues about the Red Planet’s evolutionary history.
Comments must be submitted by May 16 online or by mail. The agency also plans to hold two virtual public meetings through this link. Meetings will take place on Wednesday (May 4) at 3:00 PM ET (19:00 GMT) and Thursday (May 5) at 8:00 PM ET (00:00 GMT on Friday, May 6).
“Meetings with the public will include briefings on the status of the National Environmental Policy Act process for the proposed program, as well as its goals and scientific objectives,” NASA said in an April 29 statement.
On the subject: NASA’s Perseverance rover finds eighth rock sample on the Red Planet
(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
“The meetings will also discuss why the US Air Force’s Utah Test and Training Range is the intended sample landing site, and what planners are doing to ensure the safe and secure return of the samples — a topic known as reverse planetary defense.” “, the agency added.
Public comments will be taken into account in the development of a draft environmental impact report for the returned Mars sample, which will also be released for public comment in 2022, if the schedule is met, NASA officials said.
The public opinion request comes after some changes to the sample return campaign were announced a few weeks ago.
NASA decided in March that it would be preferable to develop a second lander due to mission mass requirements. This second lander will carry an ESA rover, while the first will carry a NASA-designed Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV).
The mission requires the rover to retrieve samples from the Perseverance cache, which the rover collects at the bottom of the Martian crater Jezero, and then place them in the MAV. MAV will launch the samples into Mars orbit, where an ESA-provided Earth return orbiter will pick them up and bring them back to our planet.
The addition of a second lander to the process pushes back the estimated launch date by two years to 2028, and the arrival of samples to Earth is delayed from 2031 to 2033.
NASA officials said the revised plan “is consistent with the findings of the Independent Mars Sample Return Review Board (IRB) that a dual-lander architecture could increase the likelihood of mission success.”
Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.