Mars on Earth: What's next?



Mars on Earth - what's next?

A portion of a crater (left) and a rugged terrain outside the crater on the boundary between the Syrtis and Isidis regions of Mars, south of the landing site planned for NASA's Mars 2020 rover in the Jezero crater. Credit: ESA / Roscosmos / CaSSIS, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

A return Mars sampling campaign would bring samples of the Red Planet to Earth for examination in the best terrestrial laboratories, but choosing the samples and storing them on Mars for later return is just one part of the extensive campaign planned by the designers of Mars. the mission and scientists.

A series of missions that are currently being planned will establish a new bar for the technological achievements of humanity, since NASA and ESA aim to recover samples from the Martian surface.

The campaign foresees three launches from Earth and one from Mars, two Martian rovers and an autonomous rendezvous and coupling in the orbit of Mars, more than 50 million kilometers from ground control.

The Mars return sample campaign aims to bring Martian material from the Jezero crater that once held a lake and contains an old delta of the preserved river. The rocks in the area will have retained information about the long and diverse geological history of Mars.

Mars sampling will allow humanity to dramatically expand our knowledge of our neighbor planet, its geology and the history of the climate.

With engineers in Europe and the United States prepared for the challenge, scientists are eager to receive the first samples from another planet and have already begun to investigate and prepare how they will badyze the precious stones, dust and gas once the samples return to the earth.


Credit: European Space Agency

Control of containment and contamination.

An important question is how to badyze the samples while protecting them from contamination by the chemical signatures of the Earth and keeping them in a safe environment.

Upon arrival, the samples will be quarantined, as will the lunar rocks that returned to Earth in the Apollo and Luna Luna missions. The international planetary protection guidelines are being revised to prepare Martian samples and obtain an update to incorporate more modern technology.

The quarantine will be inside a sample reception facility, where the samples will already offer a treasure trove of information for scientists even before they open. Any Martian dust that can cover the outside of the sample tubes can be badyzed and non-invasive techniques such as X-ray investigations can be performed, even in unopened tubes.

Mars on Earth - what's next?

Sample container of Mars. Credit: ESA-Anneke Le Floc & # 39; h

After opening the sample tubes, a predetermined set of initial measurements will generate a detailed catalog of information, which will allow specialized scientific investigations to focus on specific parts of the samples.

Messages in bottles

"The sample tubes will contain Martian rocks, dust and atmosphere," says Elliot Sefton-Nash, MSR study scientist at ESA's Office of Scientific Support, "Although the plan is to open the tubes in an inert and inert environment, for a few measurements that will set the clock: for example, the gases trapped in the sample material could begin to mix with their surroundings, which could modify the Martian chemical signatures we want to measure. "

Choosing the order to process the multitude of measures that scientists want to do is a headache of interplanetary proportions. Samples should eventually be sterilized according to the planetary protection protocol, which could require heat, radiation or chemical processes. But the sterilization procedure itself could change some samples from its original state, which means that some investigations "sensitive to sterilization" must be carried out within the containment, before the sterilization occurs.

  • Mars on Earth - what's next?

    Artistic impression of the Orbiter returning to Earth from the ESA flying over Mars. Credit: European Space Agency

  • Mars on Earth - what's next?

    Artistic impression of the return Earth Orbiter of ESA and the container of samples of Mars on Earth. Credit: European Space Agency

The good news is that a recent publication of the Mars Sample Return Science Planning Group reports that approximately three quarters of all measurements can be achieved after sterilization.

The order of subsequent investigations is important, since some measurements will influence others. Some must destroy the sample material to get results, and not all measurements can be made on all samples. The laboratory itself can be a decisive factor: accurate carbon measurement will require strict controls on the amount of carbon that can be used in the laboratory, so a full-metal laboratory may be necessary to obtain valid results. On the other hand, a metal laboratory would contaminate the samples for other measurements, so a careful balance is needed. Another problem is how to guarantee the best science in the samples in the best laboratories in the world, and in what order.

After ESA's Space19 + council, where the future and scope of ESA's participation in the return campaign of the Mars sample will be decided, the participating agencies (currently NASA and ESA) in concert with the science communities and technology, will continue to solve the challenge of how to improve Making discoveries with samples returned from Mars.

"The return of the Mars sample would be a great advance for the science of Mars and the exploration of the solar system," concludes Sanjay Vijendran, coordinator of the return campaign for the Mars sample of ESA. "The samples will fundamentally improve our understanding of Mars, the history of our solar system, and help us plan future exploration missions."


Researchers set goals to collect and study Mars samples


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European Space Agency


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Mars on Earth: What's next? (2019, June 3)
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