NASA reveals plans to deliver Martian rock samples to Earth
NASA plans to deliver 30 samples of Martian rock to Earth in 2033 and will also send two helicopters to the Red Planet, the agency announced Wednesday.
The Perseverance rover, which landed on Mars in February 2021, has already collected 11 soil samples on the Red Planet as part of its search for traces of ancient life.
However, bringing the samples back to Earth for a detailed laboratory study has proven to be a challenge.
NASA had previously planned to send another rover to Mars to collect samples from Perseverance and then deliver them to the Mars Ascent Vehicle, an automated landing module equipped with a rocket. It was supposed to send the samples to orbit, where a European spacecraft would pick them up.
But now it has been decided that the precious cargo will be delivered to the landing module by the Perseverance rover.
However, NASA has a “plan B” in case anything happens to Perseverance. Two mini-helicopters will be on board the module, which is scheduled to launch from Earth in 2028 and land on Mars in mid-2030.
Perseverance has already delivered its own Ingenuity helicopter to Mars, which has flown 29 missions in the atmosphere of the Red Planet.
The two new helicopters will be a little heavier, they will be equipped with wheels to allow them to move on the surface of the planet, as well as a small manipulator to collect samples.
It is planned that Perseverance will first drop samples on the surface of Mars, the helicopters will pick them up, and then place them on the Mars Ascent Vehicle module. The orbiter should return to Earth in 2033.