NASA wants your opinion on its plan to return samples from Mars

NASA is asking the public to comment on an environmental assessment for its Mars sample return effort.

The project, a collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA), aims to bring samples collected by the Perseverance Mars rover to Earth, possibly as early as 2033. Once they get there, scientists from labs around the world examine them for signs. of life on Mars and clues to the Red Planet’s evolutionary history.

Comments are due May 15 either online (opens in a new tab) or by mail. The agency also plans to hold two virtual public meetings at this link (opens in a new tab). The meetings will take place on Wednesday, May 4 at 3:00 p.m. EDT (19:00 GMT) and Thursday, May 5 at 8:00 p.m. EDT (00:00 GMT on Friday, May 6).

“The public meetings will include briefings on the status of the National Environmental Policy Act process for the proposed program, as well as its purpose and scientific objectives,” NASA said in an April 29 statement. . (opens in a new tab).

Related: NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover retrieves 8th rock sample from Red Planet

This illustration shows a concept for a sample retrieval lander proposed by NASA that would carry a small rocket (about 10 feet or 3 meters tall) called the Mars Ascent Vehicle to the Martian surface.

Artist’s conception for a proposed NASA sample retrieval lander that would carry a small rocket, called the Mars Ascent Vehicle, to the surface of the Red Planet. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

“Meetings will also cover why the Utah Test and Training Range operated by the U.S. Air Force is the proposed landing site for samples, and what planners are doing to ensure the safe and secure return of samples – a topic known as Planetary Backward Protection,” the agency added.

Public comments will be taken into account in developing the draft Mars environmental impact statement, which will also be released for public comment in 2022 if on schedule, NASA officials said.

The request for public input comes after some changes to the sample return campaign that were announced a few weeks ago.

In March, NASA determined that it would be best to develop a second lander due to the mass requirements of the mission. This second lander will carry ESA’s “fetch rover”, while the first will carry the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) developed by NASA.

The mission instructs the recovery rover to retrieve cached samples of Perseverance, which the rover collects from the floor of Mars’ Jezero Crater, and then place them into the MAV. The MAV will launch the samples into Mars orbit, where an ESA-provided Earth Return Orbiter will pick them up and deliver them to our planet.

Adding a second lander to the process pushes the proposed launch date back two years to 2028, with samples arriving on Earth delayed to 2033 from 2031.

NASA officials said the revised plan “is consistent with the Mars Sample Return Independent Review Board’s (IRB) conclusion that a dual lander architecture can improve the likelihood of mission success.”

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