Space may be the final frontier, but over the past few decades scientists have started to encroach on its territory. They’ve sent rover after rover to Mars, each one built to examine the planet’s surface for valuable information about its composition and history. But there’s only so much testing equipment that you can fit on a rover, let alone design with the durability to land, completely functional, on another planet. That’s why NASA is trying a new method: Bringing Martian rocks back to Earth.
The concept for returning Martian samples to Earth for terrestrial study isn’t a new one. The Mars Sample Return Mission has been in its “conceptual phase” for years, while scientists designed a methodology for getting rockets both to and from the red planet. Now, however, NASA has taken a new step towards getting the mission off the ground by bringing on Lockeed Martin to construct real life rockets.
Lockheed has been chosen to develop the Mars Ascent Vehicle, one of many pieces that will need to work together to see the MSR project work. The MAV is meant to lift samples from the surface of Mars to another vehicle in Martian orbit, which will then ferry those samples back to our own world. That step of the process is being handled by the European Space Agency, which has already approved a design from Airbus.
With vendors chosen for both the MAV and ERO vehicles, the mission to bring samples from Mars to Earth is starting to look like it could really happen. While manned missions to bring rocks back from the moon are nothing new, a fully robotic mission spanning 825 times the distance would be an incredible feat of science and engineering. With the mission planned to start in the middle of this decade, it could be an achievement we all see sooner rather than later.