That NASA intends to collect a sample from Mars and return it to Earth is well known — they’ve said so many times. But how would they go about scooping up soil from the surface of a distant planet and getting it back here? With a plan that sounds straight out of sci-fi.
Described by the project’s lead scientist in a virtual meeting reported by Nature, NASA and the European Space Agency’s proposed Mars sample retrieval program is perhaps the most ambitious interplanetary mission ever devised. (I’ve asked NASA for more details and will update this post if I hear back.)
The first part of the plan is already public: It relies on the Mars Perseverance rover, which is currently being prepared, despite the pandemic, for its launch in July. Perseverance will perform sampling using a drill and soil scoop, filling 30 small tubes with the results of its Martian delvings and storing them on board.
The next step is where things start to get wild.