NASA announced Thursday that its new Mars Sample Receiving Office, responsible for receiving and caring for the first samples returned from the Red Planet, will be located at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The safe and speedy release of Mars samples after their return to Earth to laboratories around the world for scientific investigations will be a priority.
The office will be housed within Johnson’s Astronomical Materials Research Division and Exploration Sciences, a NASA organization with expertise in processing and organizing extraterrestrial samples.
“NASA Johnson houses the world’s largest and most diverse collection of astronomical material, ranging from samples returned from the Apollo program,” said Vanessa Wyche, director of the Johnson Center. “With our experience, we look forward to managing the project that will obtain scientifically convincing Mars samples collected by the NASA Perseverance rover.”
Johnson will work with the agency’s Mars Exploration Program to develop and design plans for sample recovery and subsequent transition to science investigations. The project team will recover, contain, transport, safety assess, care for, and coordinate the scientific investigation of samples collected by NASA’s Mars 2020 rover, which is expected to reach Earth in 2033.
Samples returned to Earth will advance humanity’s understanding of Mars through detailed chemical and physical analyzes in laboratories around the world that exceed the capabilities of instruments delivered to Mars. Perseverance is collecting samples in and around Jezero Crater, where a river once flowed into a lake billions of years ago and deposited rock and sediment in a fan-shaped delta formation. The delta region is one of the best places on Mars to look for possible signs of ancient microbial life.
“Ancient samples, such as those collected on Mars, are essential in our quest to better understand the universe,” said Rep. Brian Babin of Texas. “I am proud that Johnson will lead NASA’s efforts in coordinating these samples and play a major role in moving our scientific discoveries forward.”
One of the main goals of the Mars Perseverance mission is astrobiology, including cache samples that may contain signs of ancient microbial life. The rover is currently characterizing the planet’s geology and past climate, paving the way for humans exploration From the Red Planet, the first mission to collect and store Martian rocks and regolith.
“The Mars Sample Return Program is essential to human exploration of Mars,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas. “The establishment of this Sample Receipt Project Office is a huge step forward in helping us gain knowledge and make progress in our efforts to go to Mars.”
“Johnson will work with the agency’s Mars Exploration Program and the European Space Agency to complete studies and develop plans for sample recovery and transportation, facility development and operation, and science investigations,” said Gerhard Kmenek, ESA’s chief scientist at MSR.
More information about the campaign
Returning samples to Earth from Mars is expected to be the most complex robotic spaceflight campaign ever attempted. The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars Sample Return Campaign promises to revolutionize humanity’s understanding of Mars by bringing scientifically selected samples back to Earth for study using the most advanced instruments around the world. The campaign will achieve the goal of exploring the solar system, a high priority since the 1970s and in the last three National Academy of Sciences planetary decade surveys.
This strategic partnership between NASA and the European Space Agency will be the first mission to return scientifically selected samples from another planet and the first launch from the surface of another planet. It’s believed that samples collected by NASA’s Mars rover as it explored an ancient lakebed present the best chance of uncovering clues about the early evolution of Mars, including the possibility of life in the past. By better understanding the history of Mars, we can improve our understanding of all the rocky planets in the solar system, including Earth.
For more information about the Mars Sample Return Campaign, see mars.nasa.gov/msr
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