Perseverance can bring living Martian organisms to Earth

NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are preparing a campaign to return rock samples taken by the rover Perseverance to Earth, blog post from NASA’s Jet Engine Laboratory (JPL) reveals.

While NASA hopes to bring ancient fossils back to Earth, the space agency says there, too, samples are very unlikely to contain living organisms. That’s why he will “protect the Earth from Mars” by working to ensure that his sample capsule can be tightly sealed and sterilized without damaging its contents – alive or otherwise.

While NASA is considering the potential for biocontamination in space, the likelihood of the return of living organisms is almost zero. And frankly, we are just as likely to pollute the pristine and ancient environment of Mars as we are to bring the pollutants back.

But how exactly will these samples be returned? The operation is incredibly complex, which I hope will see samples of Mars on Earth by the 2030s.

Mars Sample Return mission unleashes “stream of creativity”

In September, Mars Perseverance rowed his first sampledrilling 2 inches (6 cm) into the planet’s surface to extract a rock core, one of several that will one day return to Earth, possibly carrying with them ancient fossilized organisms that would prove that life once existed on Mars. “Returning a sample from Mars has been a priority for the planetary scientific community since the 1980s, and the potential opportunity to finally achieve that goal has unleashed a torrent of creativity,” he said. Michael Meyer, a leading scientist in NASA’s Mars Exploration Program.

As the NASA JLA points out in its blog, Operation Mars Sample Return is a multi-mission campaign designed to extract nuclei that will be assembled by Perseverance over the next few years. The US space agency has sent its rover Perseverance to the red planet to collect samples before designing a spacecraft and machines to extract those samples. In collaboration with dozens of government agencies, NASA says it will develop a number of spacecraft and technologies – all currently in the concept phase – in “one of the most ambitious ventures in the history of space flight.”

Illustration of NASA’s rover retrieval concept. Source: NASA / JPL-Caltech

What we know so far is that the basic concepts for spacecraft are being developed by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). They are designing autonomous systems that will launch a rocket to Mars. Once there, an autonomous robotic retrieval rover will descend into the atmosphere of the red planet, where it will collect samples that will be left at certain coordinates by the rover Perseverance. This rover (shown in the image above and the video below) will transfer the samples back to its landing, which will be fired back to the orbiter.

The orbital carrier will then return to Earth, where scientists will finally be able to analyze the rock samples. The orbiter will place the rock samples in a capsule for entering Earth, which will probably work in a similar way to the Japanese space agency JAXA asteroid re-entry capsulewho released a capsule into our atmosphere to assemble a ground retrieval team.

Protection of the sample for permanence and “protection of the Earth from Mars”

In a fascinating twist, in addition to protecting the samples from any contamination as they travel back to Earth, the Mars Sample Return Mission will also take steps to “protect the Earth from Mars.” In a blog post, NASA said: “NASA is unlikely to return samples of living Martian organisms based on decades of data from orbiting, landing and rovers on Mars. Instead, scientists hope to find fossilized organic matter or other signs of ancient microbial life. However, the US space agency says that despite the “low risk of bringing anything alive to Earth, an abundance of caution is prompting NASA to take significant steps to ensure that samples from Mars remain securely sealed throughout their journey.”

This means that, as unlikely as it is, NASA is prepared for the possibility of returning living alien organisms from Mars – most likely microbes, not xenomorphs. That’s why NASA is working on a special soldering method that involves melting a metal alloy in a liquid to bond the metal together. This will safely seal the sample for its return to Earth, preventing even the smallest particle from leaking, while allowing the outer part of the capsule to be sterilized with the sample.

Perseverance can bring living Martian organisms to Earth.  But is it safe?
An image taken by the rover Perseverance, showing the drilled hole from which he extracted his first sample. Source: NASA / JPL-Caltech

“One of our biggest technical challenges right now is that inches of metal that melts at about 1000 ° F (538 ° C), we have to keep these unusual samples from Mars below the hottest temperature we could. test on Mars, which is about 86 ° F (30 ° C,), “said Brendan Feehan, Goddard’s systems engineer working on the soldering system.” Initial test results from our soldering solution confirmed that we were on the right track. . “

NASA and ESA hope that their first sample return mission will be able to take off on the red planet sometime before 2030, which means that the samples are likely to return in the 2030s – as a starting point, on the rover Marse Perseverance took seven months to reach the red planet. When they do, this will allow the scientific community to analyze samples and gain a new understanding of the history of our solar system and possibly its capacity to preserve ancient extraterrestrial life. Fortunately, they will do so with technology focused on conserving life here on Earth.

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