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NASA’s plan on getting Martian samples to Earth

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This ice which was found can help scientists understand the climate history of Mars. IANS
This ice which was found can help scientists understand the climate history of Mars. IANS
  • NASA plans on getting Martian samples to Earth from Mars
  • To know if life existed anywhere other than on Earth

Washington, Dec 11: (IANS) NASA has revealed how it plans to bring back Martian samples to Earth for the first time with the help of its next rover mission to the Red Planet, Mars 2020.

After landing on Mars, a drill will capture rock cores, while a caching system with a miniature robotic arm will seal up these samples. Then, they will be deposited on the Martian surface for possible pickup by a future mission, NASA said.

“Whether life ever existed beyond Earth is one of the grand questions humans seek to answer,” said Ken Farley of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“What we learn from the samples collected during this mission has the potential to address whether we’re alone in the universe,” Farley said.

Mars 2020 relies heavily on the system designs and spare hardware previously created for Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity rover, which landed in 2012.

Despite its similarities to Mars Science Laboratory, the new mission has very different goals – it will seek signs of ancient life by studying the terrain that is now inhospitable, but once held flowing rivers and lakes, more than 3.5 billion years ago.

To achieve these new goals, the rover has a suite of cutting-edge science instruments.

It will seek out biosignatures on a microbial scale.

An X-ray spectrometer will target spots as small as a grain of table salt, while an ultraviolet laser will detect the “glow” from excited rings of carbon atoms.

A ground-penetrating radar will look under the surface of Mars, mapping layers of rock, water and ice up to 10 metres deep, depending on the material.

The rover is getting some upgraded Curiosity hardware, including colour cameras, a zoom lens and a laser that can vaporise rocks and soil to analyse their chemistry, NASA said.

The mission will also undertake a marathon sample hunt.

The rover team will try to drill at least 20 rock cores, and possibly as many as 30 or 40, for possible future return to Earth, NASA said.

Site selection has been another milestone for the mission. In February, the science community narrowed the list of potential landing sites from eight to three.

All three sites have rich geology and may potentially harbour signs of past microbial life. But a final landing site decision is still more than a year away.

“In the coming years, the 2020 science team will be weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each of these sites,” Farley said.

“It is by far the most important decision we have ahead of us,” Farley said.

The mission is set to launch in July/August 2020. (IANS)

Next Story

China Exchanged Data With NASA On Its Recent Mission To Moon

The country has also said that it will welcome scientists and astronauts from around the world to make use of its space station, which is slated for completion by 2022.

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Wu Yanhua, deputy director of the national space agency, speaks during a press conference held in Beijing, China, Jan. 14, 2019. VOA

China exchanged data with NASA on its recent mission to land a Chinese spacecraft on the far side of the moon, the Chinese space agency said Monday, in what was reportedly the first such collaboration since an American law banned joint space projects with China that do not have prior congressional approval.

The space agency’s deputy director, Wu Yanhua, said NASA shared information about its lunar orbiter satellite in hopes of monitoring the landing of the Chang’e 4 spacecraft, which made China the first country to land on the far side of the moon earlier this month.

China in turn shared the time and coordinates of Chang’e 4’s scheduled landing, Wu told reporters during a briefing on the lunar mission. He added that while NASA’s satellite did not catch the precise moment of landing, it took photographs of the area afterward.

The state-run China Daily said that was the first such form of cooperation since the 2011 U.S. law was enacted.

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The far side of the moon, photographed by the Chang’e-4 lunar probe, is seen in this image provided by China National Space Administration, Jan. 3, 2019. VOA

NASA has not published any statements on the collaboration and could not immediately be reached for comment.

The lunar mission by Chang’e 4 and its rover, Jade Rabbit 2, was a triumph for China’s growing space program, which has been rapidly catching up with those of Russia and the U.S. President Xi Jinping has placed space exploration among the country’s national development priorities and the far side mission offered a chance for China to do something not done before by any other country.

The far side of the moon – the side which faces away from Earth – posed a challenge for scientists because it is beyond radio signals’ reach. China set up a relay satellite in May to receive communication from Chang’e 4.

“In the past, we were always rushing to catch up to the advanced global standards” in space, said Wu Weiren, the chief designer of China’s lunar exploration project.

“There were many things to catch up on, and fewer things in which we could surpass others,” he said. “With the probe of the far side of the moon this time, Chinese people have done very well.”

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This picture taken Jan. 3, 2019, and received, Jan. 4, from the China National Space Administration (CNSA) via CNS shows a robotic lunar rover on the far side of the moon. VOA

Officials at the briefing declined to give specific figures on the costs of the space program.

Wu Yanhua said the Chang’e 4 was originally built as a “backup product” for Chang’e 3. He said the spending needed to refit it for its new objective was akin to repairing a short section of subway line.

Also Read: NASA Telescopes Capture Birth of Black Hole or Neutron Star

Around the end of this year, China plans to launch Chang’e 5, which is to collect and bring back samples from the near side of the moon, the first time that has been done since 1976. Scientists are still researching whether to send Chinese astronauts, Wu said.

The country has also said that it will welcome scientists and astronauts from around the world to make use of its space station, which is slated for completion by 2022. (VOA)