(ORDO NEWS) — NASA‘s Mars Sample Return Mission aims to bring back to Earth in the early 2030s 30 rock, soil and atmosphere samples that the Perseverance rover is now collecting. The goal is to find signs of past life, as well as learn more about the Red Planet before people visit it.
There are quite a few questions about the progress of the mission that have been answered by Mars sample return scientists Michael Meyer and Lindsey Hayes.
Why can’t the work be done in a space station or outside the Earth’s atmosphere?
The main reason for returning the samples is to make Martian material available to the best instruments in labs around the world. Due to difficulties with equipment in space, including mass, power, and volume.
In addition, space is a difficult environment for sample manipulation, which precludes some key measurement capabilities such as extraction, thus reducing the scientific value of the samples.
Is it possible for you to do some kind of test in advance to make sure the samples are safe before they are returned to Earth?
If there was a test, we would run it. However, even the best tests give us good but ultimately insufficient data to change our isolation protocol; a series of tests must be carried out to demonstrate safety.
Please note that we handle samples with the utmost care – as if they are not safe – until we can prove that they are.
Mars certainly seems inhospitable, but is there any chance the samples could contain some kind of life/germs?
Mars has been shown to be inhospitable, and this has changed our view of potential pollution. And yes, in our opinion, the extreme environment of Mars does make it less likely that there is life on its surface.
The fact that Martian meteorites are constantly landing on Earth suggests that we have nothing to worry about.
However, we do not know for sure, so we will take every precaution and keep Martian materials under control until we can prove that they are safe.
This will not be done before the 2030s, and a biosecurity facility will be built for this, right?
Yes, a facility will be built to store samples and distribute subsets of them that are found to be safe, either by sterilizing a subset of the samples or using the aggregated measurement results to conclude that the samples are safe.
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