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Spacecraft To Take First Step Toward Mars Sample Return Missions

Nov. 28, 2019 (EIRNS)—Taking advantage of a very favorable relative position next year between the Earth and Mars, a number of space agencies will launch spacecraft to the red planet. Two, one by NASA, and one by ExoMars by ESA partnering with Russia, will take the first step towards a Mars Sample Return mission.

Returning samples of dirt and rocks from Mars is being planned through the coordination of these three space agencies. NASA’s “Mars 2020 [rover] will collect soil samples, put them in small metal tubes, then seal them,” said Sanjay Vijendran, a lead member of ESA’s Mars Sample Return team. Caches of these tubes will then be left at designated sites on the Martian surface. Then a second craft to be built by ESA, known as a fetch rover, will be launched to Mars on a Russian Proton rocket and will trundle round these sites, and load the samples into a football-sized canister. The container will be taken to a U.S. rocket that will blast the container into orbit round Mars.

Until now the only way to examine Mars has been by examining pieces of the planet that fall to Earth, and by rovers. Bringing the samples back to Earth laboratories will open a new window in the history of Mars. The most challenging inquiry will be to determine if life existed on Mars or even exists today.

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