That NASA intends to acquire a pattern from Mars and return it to Earth is well-known — they’ve stated so many instances. But how would they go about scooping up soil from the floor of a distant planet and getting it back right here? With a plan that sounds straight out of sci-fi.
Described by the venture’s lead scientist in a digital assembly reported by Nature, NASA and the European Space Agency’s proposed Mars pattern retrieval program is maybe probably the most ambitious interplanetary mission ever devised. (I’ve requested NASA for extra particulars and can replace this put up if I hear back.)
The first half of the plan is already public: It depends on the Mars Perseverance rover, which is presently being prepared, despite the pandemic, for its launch in July. Perseverance will carry out sampling utilizing a drill and soil scoop, filling 30 small tubes with the outcomes of its Martian delvings and storing them on board.
The subsequent step is the place issues begin to get wild.
A second spacecraft will journey to Mars, launching in 2026 and arriving in 2028, and land close to Perseverance in Jezero crater. It will deploy a second rover, which can roll over to Perseverance, acquire the pattern tubes, and deposit them within the “Mars ascent automobile” that additionally got here with it. This small rocket will launch itself and the samples into orbit — the primary time a spacecraft can have taken off from the floor of Mars.
At this level, a third spacecraft ready close by will synchronize its orbit with the pattern retrieval craft, acquire it, and return to Earth with it, the place it should make its — managed, one hopes — reentry in 2031.
“This is not at all a easy job,” stated head of NASA’s Mars exploration program Jim Watzin within the assembly, uttering maybe the best understatement of the 21st century thus far. “But we have now stored it so simple as doable.”
Indeed, it’s laborious to suppose of a easier course of given the restrictions of journey to Mars. Naturally Perseverance can’t shoot the samples back on a ballistic trajectory itself for a selection of causes. That necessitates a second floor automobile. And engineering that automobile to fill the roles of outbound spacecraft, lander, rover, ascent automobile, and return spacecraft might merely be inconceivable. So a third spacecraft is required as nicely.
Keep in thoughts that that is the mission profile, however the precise spacecraft don’t exist but, and certain gained’t for years to come. Still, it’s a mind-blowing plan that NASA has simply revealed.