A scientist from NASA confirmed that the space agency is currently developing a new mission that will collect samples from Mars so they can be studied on Earth. The scientist said the upcoming mission can help prove whether extraterrestrial life ever existed on Mars.
During the ongoing International Astronautical Congress currently being held in Washington, DC, Brian Muirhead of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory revealed that he has been tasked with leading the development of a new mission to Mars. According to Muirhead, the main goal of the mission will be to collect samples from the Red Planet so they can be studied on Earth.
The scientist said that NASA intends to accomplish this with the help of another Mars mission that will be launched in 2020. The rover that will be used in this expedition will select the samples that will be taken home by another future mission. For Muirhead, being able to study actual samples from Mars could shed light on one of the greatest mysteries of the Red Planet.
"It's the consensus of science community today that if we're going to answer the hardest questions about Mars — like, for example, whether life showed up on Mars — we're going to need to bring material from Mars to our terrestrial laboratories," Muirhead said during the congress according to Space.com.
For Muirhead's sample-return mission, the scientist explained that a spacecraft will take a new rover to Mars. This rover, which is smaller than Curiosity, will be equipped with a special container where it will store the samples selected by the previous mission.
Once the samples have been collected, the rover will return to its spacecraft. Unlike other missions to Mars, the upcoming one will actually leave the planet once it has completed its objective. According to Muirhead, the spacecraft carrying the rover will be designed to take off from Mars using an electric propulsion system.
Once near or within Earth's orbit, the spacecraft will launch the capsule holding the samples' container into space. Muirhead noted that the capsule will be equipped with its own propulsion systems to ensure that it safely reaches Earth's surface.