NASA wants to collect a sample from Mars and get it to Earth, we all know that. But how will they do that? They have a plan, and it’s quite an interesting one.
The plan was described by the project’s lead scientist. He stated that the Mars sample retrieval program is the most ambitious mission ever to be devised. We already know all about the first part, and it relies on the Mars Perseverance rover. This one is still in works, and it will be launched in July. It will get the samples using a drill and soil scoop, and 30 small tubes, in which it will place the samples.
Now things get interesting: there’s a second spacecraft that will travel to Mars. It will be launched in 2026, and it will get there in 2028. It will land near Perseverance, in Jezero crater. It will collect the tubes and put them in the “Mars ascent vehicle.” The small rocket will launch itself, together with the samples into the orbit. This is the first time that a vehicle is launching itself from Mars.
Then, a third spacecraft will be waiting, and then synchronize its orbit with the sample retrieval craft. It will get the samples and return to Earth. That will happen somewhere around 2031.
Jim Watzin, the head of NASA’s Mars exploration program, stated that This is by no means a simple task, but we have kept it as simple as possible.” Of course, Perseverance can’t shoot the samples back, and there are a lot of reasons why. They needed a second surface vehicle. One with the roles of spacecraft, lander, rover, then ascent vehicle, then return spacecraft was merely impossible to do.