Sending fragile analytical devices to Mars that will survive landing is not always successful and the weight and size limitations need to be considered. Having a sample studied on Earth would allow a broader range of examinations.
Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission, collecting rocks and dust from the surface of the planet and sending them to Earth, is believed to be “among the most important goals of Mars science” by the NASA Analysis Group.
NASA and ESA decided to collaborate on the MSR proposal, but the idea is not entirely fresh. Many sample return missions were proposed before and never executed. This time seems to be different. ESA’s ministers confirmed the budget for the MSR mission on the meeting 27-28th November in Seville.
Scientists believe there were Earth-like conditions on Mars billions of years ago and the planet could be inhabited. They will study the samples obtained with the MSR mission to find out how did the past life look like.
The rover Mars 2020 provided by NASA is planned to arrive on the red planet in 2021, collect samples up to 500g and launch them back to Earth with provided by ESA return orbiter. The samples are expected to land in Utah in 2031.
MSR is very complex and involves launching a rocket from another planet which was never done before, to meet the return spacecraft on the orbit. All actions must be planned with an incredible precision and there are many factors that could abolish the mission. Nonetheless, if successful, the results will be one of the most important and exciting in space exploration.