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What stories will the Mars rock samples tell us?

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Sending a 1,025 kilogram (2,260 pound) robotic vehicle with sensitive sampling equipment (and the first-ever space helicopter) to Mars was already audacious. What is it to transport those Mars rock samples back to Earth? Possible.

The teams at NASA JPL are designing, constructing, and extensively testing a new set of machines built to transfer 38 Mars rock sample tubes from the Red Planet’s surface into space, where they can collect and ferry them down to Terra Firma.

These extraterrestrial samplesβ€”with 23 collected as of December 2023β€”may allow scientists to answer previously unanswerable questions, like “Did life ever exist on Mars?”

In Mars Rock Samples: The Stories They Could Tell, planetary scientist Dr. Meenakshi (Mini) Wadhwa and astrobiologist Sunanda Sharma share the science and the story behind Perseverance’s current assignment. We also get a glimpse at what NASA teams are doing to complete the mission. From the video caption:

“The Perseverance rover has collected a diverse set of samples, including:
β€’ Sedimentary rocks, which are good at preserving ancient life
β€’ Igneous rocks, which can tell us about the early evolution of Mars
β€’ Regolith, which can provide insight into the global and local landscape of Mars”

Mars rock sample

“Through a series of future missions called Mars Sample Return, these samples could be brought to Earth for in-depth study and could help astrobiologists in their search for signs of ancient microbial life on the Red Planet.”

For a look at how the Perseverance rover will pass these exceptional batons, watch this animated demonstration:

sending mars rock samples into space

How can NASA dare to execute these unprecedented multi-step, multi-machine expeditions? They test, test, test.

“Teams across multiple NASA centers and the European Space Agency are working together to prepare a set of missions that would return the samples being collected by the Mars Perseverance rover safely back to Earth… This video features some of that prototype testing underway for the proposed Sample Retrieval Lander, Mars Ascent Vehicle launch systems, and the Earth Entry System.”

NASA JPL mechanical engineers Pavlina Karafillis, Cassie Smith, Chris Chatellier, Alec Bielawiek, and Scott Perino narrate each step of the testing:


Get a closer look at the Mars Rock Samples.

Then watch these Mars videos next:
β€’Β What did Mars look like 4 billion years ago?
β€’Β In search of water on Mars – Seasonal dark streaks on the Red Planet
β€’Β Touchdown on Mars: Perseverance Rover’s descent and landing
β€’Β The first flight of Ingenuity, NASA’s helicopter on Mars
β€’Β Who prevents Earth microbes from traveling to Mars?
β€’Β Mars in a Minute – How Do You Get to Mars?

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