Speaker 1: NASA is bringing its first ever samples from Mars back to earth. And it’s put together a team of robots, two helicopters, and a mini rocket to do it. It’s part of the Mars sample return program, a joint mission between NASA and the European space agency to retrieve samples collected by the perseverance Rover. It involves a lot of firsts. The first rocket to launch from another planet. The first time inter planetary samples are brought back to earth. And [00:00:30] the first time we could see physical evidence of life on another planet and the coolest part, it’s not just rock samples. This mission is set to bring back a sample of the Martian atmosphere. Are we about to find out what Mars smells like? The Mars sample return program is part of a much bigger mission on Mars in February, 2021, NASA landed the perseverance Rover on Mars to study the planet’s habitability and [00:01:00] look for sign of microbial life. The landing was historic. The Rover survived the so-called seven minutes of terror during dissent and landing, and even managed to capture video during the process,
Speaker 2: Perseverance safely on the surface of Mars, ready to begin seeking the sand of
Speaker 1: Then two months later came another exciting milestone. The first flight of the ingenuity helicopter, the small rotorcraft weighing just under two kilograms [00:01:30] launched in April, 2021, flying up about three meters in the thin Martian atmosphere and landing 40 seconds later. So far, the Mars mission has been a huge success. There have been 29 helicopter flights, way more than the fire flights we were hoping for. And since 2021, perseverance has been acting kind of like your uncle at Costco, quietly roaming around the surface of Mars, hoovering up samples. And that brings us to the sample return [00:02:00] mission. One of the coolest parts of the perseverance Rover is its sample caching system. What NASA calls the most complicated, most sophisticated space robot it’s ever had to build
Speaker 3: To drill into the rock on Mars, pull out intact core samples, seal them hermetically, and to be all done autonomously by a robot hanging off the end of a Rover on the surface of ours has been a challenge.
Speaker 1: The system [00:02:30] is made up of three robots working together. The first a robotic arm reaches out and drills into the surface of Mars to collect the samples. The second robot called the bit carousel takes the samples and puts them in the body of the Rover. Then another robotic arm takes the sample from the carousel and moves it under the Rover to assess it, to take pictures and then seal it off for storage. In one of the robots, storage cylinders, all of this is done autonomously by the Rover [00:03:00] in the space of a few hours on a planet 400 million kilometers away. But it’s not just about collecting the samples. As we all know, when we are sneaking free tasters of jumbo shrimp, it’s about how you get them home. And this is where the Mars rocket and the two space helicopters come in NASA and Issa have designed a complex plan to retrieve the samples with the help of the space helicopters, load them onto a rocket and then launch them into Mars’s orbit for a journey back home.
Speaker 1: [00:03:30] There are a bunch of steps that need to happen smoothly for this to work. So let’s break it down. It starts with landing NASA’s sample retrieval land on Mars. This is set to launch in 2028 and land in the JE crater near the perseverance Rover. This land will hold the rocket that will eventually launch the samples back to earth. The next step is getting the samples to Thelander originally NASA planned to land a second Rover to drive out and collect the samples from perseverance. But [00:04:00] it turns out perseverance has well persevered longer on Mars than expected. So Percy will drive the samples back to Thelander itself, but what if something goes wrong? Well, that’s when we get to the chopper,
Speaker 1: The ingenuity helicopter proves that we can fly robots on Mars. So Nassau is going to send up two similar helicopters with the sample retrieval Lander they’ll act as a backup if perseverance fails or can’t [00:04:30] deliver the samples itself. Once the samples are back at Thelander, whether from perseverance or the helicopters, they’ll be handled by more robots, including Ace’s sample transfer arm. This two and a half meter long autonomous arm will identify the samples, including hopefully one sample of Martian air. Then it’ll load them onto a special container inside a rocket to launch them off Mars that rocket, the Mars are scent vehicle is about three meters or 10 [00:05:00] feet tall, but it’s a huge deal. It’ll launch the samples into orbit, making it the first rocket launch off another planet. Okay, so now the samples are in orbit. Then what? Well that’s where they meet up with the earth return. Orbiter Issa is launching that in 2027, it’s going to orbit around Mars and eventually capture the basketball size sample container from the Mars rocket it’ll lock those samples into a special bio containment unit and then make its [00:05:30] way back to earth. And that very special cargo is expected to return to earth in 2033.
Speaker 1: Once we have our pieces of Mars back on earth, NASA says the big focus is on safety of our home planet. That’s right. Not only do we have to clean anything we send to Mars because frankly earth is riddled with COOs, but also scientists need to make sure that whatever we pick up from Mars doesn’t contain some kind of sci-fi alien [00:06:00] biohazard man, that would make a really good movie, but it’s very unlikely. Scientists are much more interested in getting their hands on these samples for research to analyze how all the rock formations are on Mars to learn about its composition and even hunt for signs of ancient life. And yes, hopefully they’ll get to sniff some Martian air. A girl has got a dream, right? Getting a few samples of Martian rocks. Dust and air might feel a bit like a geology field [00:06:30] trip, but it can tell us a huge amount about the history of our closest neighbor in the solar system. The whole reason perseverance is on this particular part of Mars in the first place is because it’s really significant for space science. Scientists believe the JE crater was once home to an ancient lake that formed 3.5 billion years ago, or that water could mean that microbial life once existed in this area and scientists, hope evidence of this [00:07:00] life could be preserved in the rocks and soil.
Speaker 3: Mars has been at the fore of our consciousness about the questions of life could life exist in one of our nearest neighbors. I think we have a lot to learn life or no life about the evolution of our solar system, about our planet. By looking in depth at rocks brought back from ours.
Speaker 1: This mission might be [00:07:30] largely about space rocks, but it’ll also pave the way for human missions to the red planet, Nassar and Issa say this kind of complex program with robots, rockets and helicopters, all playing a part and working together. It’s exactly the kind of multi-phase mission we need to test out before we get humans onto another planet. Still, these are the most exciting space rocks we’ve seen since the lunar samples from Apollo. It’s crazy to think that in a decade, scientists will be holding pieces [00:08:00] of Mars in their very own hands.