NASA and Esa signed a letter of intent that may lead to the first “round trip” to another planet.
Space agencies in the United States and Europe are withdrawing Mars rock and soil samples towards a joint mission.
The move was announced at a conference held in Berlin, Germany, to discuss the scientific goals and feasibility of the Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission.
The joint venture will allow scientists to answer key questions about the history of Mars.
These questions include whether or not the Red Planet once presided over life.
Scientists at the Mars conference said they can only learn a lot from Mars meteorite and various rovers and static landers sent to the Red Planet.
The next step must be to retrieve samples from the surface of Mars, send them into space and safely place them on Earth.
They can then perform detailed analyses in the lab, using current, too-heavy, power-consuming instruments as part of the payload and technology of robotic rover vehicles that are difficult to implement 55 million kilometers away.
Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, Deputy Secretary of Science of NASA Science and Technology, announced at the ILA Berlin Aerospace Exhibition held in conjunction with the Mars Conference: “We hope to cooperate with the European Space Agency, but we must also cooperate with the European Space Agency and other partners.”
He said that this includes potential links with the commercial space sector and added: “We will look at the products available on the commercial market at every point, and NASA has no interest in developing what we can buy.”
Dave Parker, head of human and robot detection at Esa, commented: “Every task we send to Mars has found something unusual, which is important because we tend to plan for the next or next task.”
The NASA 2020 roving mission is expected to help pave the way for the return of Mars samples by drilling into the surface and buffering the cores in the containers. But this is mainly for demonstration.
The design of the sample backhaul task will need to be developed in the coming years. The previous concept has conceived of a rover for storing geological samples of Mars’ scientific ideal location.
The cached sample will then be loaded onto an ascending vehicle that will take off from the surface of Mars. After cruising returns to Earth, the descent module will land through the Earth’s atmosphere and send the first batch of Mars samples retrieved directly to experts waiting for the ground.
Protecting the planet
If life existed in the past on the Red Planet, it would likely have been microbial in nature. Today, the high levels of cosmic radiation on Mars’ surface – a consequence of its thin atmosphere – would create a hostile environment for any organisms.
However, the fact that organisms live in Martian soil today is unlikely to occur. The treatment of the Mission itself and the processing of samples after reaching the Earth require strict quarantine or “planetary protection” procedures to prevent pollution of the Earth’s biosphere and any Mars insect.
Dr. Zurbuchen said that the sample return mission is also important for the later planned human Mars exploration. He said that NASA should begin to consider it in the 2030s.
“I can imagine a lot of scenes. The sample is actually very important for us how to explore humanity,” he said.
Nasa and Esa had previously worked together on a programme to return geological samples from the Red Planet. In 2009, the agencies agreed to collaborate on the Mars Joint Exploration Initiative, which would have culminated in the recovery of samples in the 2020s.
But in 2011, Nasa cancelled its participation in the project amid a budgetary squeeze.
The 2nd International Mars Sample Return Conference is taking place from 25-27 April 2018 in Berlin.