Bringing Mars back to Earth

There

There

A new rover built by NASA and called Perseverance will land on Mars in February 2021 using the “sky crane” method. A giant parachute and rocket engines will slow down the mission’s descent before the rover is lowered to the surface using cables.

NASA's latest Mars rover is a six-wheel robotic machine called Perseverance

NASA's latest Mars rover is a six-wheel robotic machine called Perseverance

Perseverance – a six-wheel robotic machine with 23 cameras and a drill – will look for signs of ancient life in a large Jezero crater. It will collect rock and soil samples that appear to have been altered by contact with microorganisms.

The Perseverance rover collects and stores samples of Martian soil and rocks in metal containers, which it leaves on the surface

The rover will store its samples in metal containers, but will leave them behind on the Martian surface to continue its mission. Perserverance’s plutonium-based power supply could cause the rover to roam around Mars for 10 years or more.

A small robotic machine called the fetch rover collects the specimens left by Perseverance

Within this decade – after 2026 – a second smaller rover will arrive on Mars, which will be built by the European Space Agency (ESA). This “fetch rover” will travel across the surface collecting the sample containers left by Perseverance.

The samples are launched from the Martian atmosphere into orbit by a small rocket called Mars Ascent Vehicle or MAV

The samples are launched from the Martian atmosphere into orbit by a small rocket called Mars Ascent Vehicle or MAV

The containers will be loaded into a protective container and placed in a small rocket: the Mars Ascent Vehicle or MAV. This will explode in the sky, placing the container in orbit around Mars.

The sample container is captured by the satellite's return orbit

The sample container is captured by the satellite's return orbit

The sample container will be flown into orbit and captured by a European satellite. This “return orbit” will behave like a merchant ship, bringing back precious specimens of rock and soil to Earth.

The rock samples are brought back to Earth from the return orbit and released into the atmosphere in a heavily protected container

The rock samples are brought back to Earth from the return orbit and released into the atmosphere in a heavily protected container

We do not expect the satellite to arrive home until at least 2031, when the sample container has been packed in a heavily protected capsule, to be sent to Earth’s atmosphere to land in North America.

Samples of Martian rock studied in a terrestrial laboratory

Scientists will therefore study rocks and soil using advanced techniques, including some that have yet to be invented because there should be enough material to investigate for decades to come. The champions will shed light on the history of Mars and whether it has ever supported microbial life forms.

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