Today, NASA has announced that it will be moving into the next phase of its Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission. This move would bring the mission into “Phase A,” the phase in which many crucial decisions will be made.
Phase A is detailed as being the preliminary analysis phase of any NASA mission. During this time, the space agency will design a proof of concept that specifies what will be built and how to do so. Technologies that are crucial to the particular mission will be advanced during this time as well.
The first aspect of the Mars mission that needs to be completed is the safe landing of NASA’s Perseverance rover on Martian soil. The rover launched from Earth in July and is due to make its landing on Mars on February 18, 2021. After landing, Perseverance will use a coring drill to search for microbial life and collect rock samples.
After the Mars rock samples have been collected, both NASA and ESA will provide the suitable hardware for a Sample Retrieval Lander mission and an Earth Return Orbiter mission. Both of these corresponding missions will work to collect the samples and get them returned safely to Earth.
“Returning samples of Mars to Earth has been a goal of planetary scientists since the early days of the space age, and the successful completion of this MSR key decision point is an important next step in transforming this goal into reality,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA.
Successfully bringing rock samples from Mars back to Earth would be a significant advancement in the mission to understand if life once existed on the red planet. NASA believes that if all goes according to plan, the samples should arrive at Earth in the early 2030s.