Science

Samples of the Perseverance rover will be stored at NASA’s new Houston office.

NASA has revealed where the samples collected on Mars will be processed when they return to Earth.

The space agency has just announced the opening of a Mars sample acquisition project office at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston. The office will be housed in the AO’s Astromaterials Research and Exploration Unit and will oversee the first samples returned to Earth from the Red Planet.

The material will be vital to humanity’s understanding of Mars and other rocky planets, as well as help in the search for past life on Mars, NASA officials said. Bringing these pristine samples back to Earth will enable advanced chemical analysis that is beyond the capabilities of the rovers currently exploring the surface of the Red Planet.

Related: How NASA and ESA will bring Mars Perseverance samples to Earth

AO has significant experience in handling and storing off-Earth specimens.

“NASA Johnson holds the largest and most diverse collection of astromaterials in the world, beginning with samples returned from the Apollo program,” said AO director Vanessa Veach. (will open in a new tab) on Monday (January 23). “Through our experience, we look forward to managing a project that will provide science-based Mars samples collected by NASA’s Perseverance rover.”

Perseverance is currently collecting samples from the Jezero crater on Mars, which contained an ancient river delta and lake more than 3.5 billion years ago. Scientists believe that if microbial life once existed in the region, sediments at the bottom of a lake or shoreline collected by Perseverance could contain clear traces of it.

Persistence made history in December 2022 when it dropped its first sample tubes onto the Martian surface, on a section of the Jezero floor that the mission team calls “Three Forks.” Perseverance will drop a total of 10 tubes, each reminiscent of a Star Wars lightsaber hilt, at the Three Forks warehouse for possible future collection as part of the sample return campaign to Mars.

NASA is currently working with the European Space Agency (ESA) on this campaign, which will consist of several elements including “Persistence”.

A NASA-built test return lander is scheduled to launch in 2028 and then land inside the 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero. Perseverance samples will be brought to the lander either by the rover itself or by two small Martian helicopters carried by the lander. These helicopters will be similar to NASA’s Ingenuity, which landed with Perseverance in February 2021 and has 40 Mars missions under its belt (and the number continues to grow).

Two helicopters will pick up 10 samples from the warehouse if Perseverance can’t get to the lander itself with dozens of samples to carry on its body.

The samples will then be launched using the Mars Ascent Vehicle lander, which will be the first rocket to launch from the Red Planet. The sample container will be lifted into Mars orbit by the ESA Earth Return Orbiter (ERO), which is scheduled to launch from our planet in 2027.

The samples will then be returned to Earth by the ERO Earth Entry System, a disk-shaped heat shield craft that will allow safe travel through Earth’s atmosphere.

If all goes according to plan, Perseverance samples will land here as early as 2033. And scientists now know where the samples will go after completing this complex return choreography.

“Johnson will work with the agency’s Mars Exploration Program and ESA to complete research and develop plans for sample recovery and transport, equipment development and operation, and scientific research,” ESA’s lead Mars sample return scientist said in the same interview. Gerhard Kminek. statement.

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