US and European space agencies are on their way to a joint mission to return rock and soil samples from Mars.
Nasa and Esa have signed a Memorandum of Understanding that could lead to the first "sightseeing flight" to another planet
The move was announced as a meeting in Berlin, Germany, discussed the scientific objectives and feasibility of a Mars Sample Return ( MSR) Mission
The endeavor would allow scientists to answer key questions about the history of Mars [1
Scientists at the Mars meeting said there could only be so much of Mars meteorites and the various rovers and static lands on the Red Planet. The next step would have to be a mission to pick up samples from the Martian surface, explode them into space in a capsule and land them safely on Earth.
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They could then be subjected to a detailed analysis in laboratories using instruments that are currently too large and power hungry to transport as part of the payload of a robotic rover, and techniques that are difficult to perform from 55 million kilometers away are.
The announcement of the ILA Berlin Air and Space Show, which coincides with the Mars meeting, Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's Associate Science Administrator, said: "We want to partner with the European Space Agency, but also with other partners."
He said that this included possible links with the commercial space sector and added "We will definitely look at what is available in the commercial market and Nasa has no interest in developing things we can buy."
Dave Parker, director of human and robotic exploration at Esa, commented "It is very important that every mission we send to Mars discover something out of the ordinary, based on the fact that we tend to plan the next mission or next missions."
NASA's 2020 Rover Mission is set to pave the way for the Mars Sample Return by drilling into the surface and caching the cores in containers. But above all, this should serve as a demonstration.
The design of a sample return mission would have to be prepared in the coming years. Earlier concepts provided for a rover that stores geological samples of scientifically desirable locations on Mars.
The cached samples would then be loaded onto an ascent vehicle that lifts off from the Martian surface. After the return to Earth, a descent module would fall through the Earth's atmosphere and bring the first Mars samples directly into the hands of the experts waiting on the ground.
Protecting the Planet
If there was a Red Planet in the past, it would probably have been of a microbial nature. Today, the high cosmic radiation on the surface of Mars – a consequence of its thin atmosphere – would create a hostile environment for all organisms.
But in the unlikely event that organisms live on the Martian soil today, the mission itself and the handling of samples, once they have arrived on Earth, would have to undergo a strict quarantine or "planetary protection" in order to protect them To prevent contamination of the biosphere of the earth with Mars bugs.
Dr. Zurbuchen said the sample repatriation mission could also be crucial for later-planned human exploration of Mars, which he said NASA should consider in the 2030s.
"I can imagine many scenarios where the samples are indeed crucial to our exploration as humans," he said.
Esas Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) is currently commissioning its instruments in the Martian orbit. It will contribute to the question of life by mapping the distribution of methane gas in the atmosphere, which could be produced by Martian organisms as well as non-biological sources.
Nasa and Esa had previously collaborated on a geological recovery program on samples from the Red Planet. In 2009, the agencies agreed on the joint exploration initiative for Mars, which would have led to the recovery of samples in the 2020s.
In 2011, however, Nasa announced its involvement in the project under budgetary constraint.
The 2nd International Mars Sample Return Conference takes place from 25.-27. April 2018 in Berlin.
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