Scientists from NASA explain why they can't examine Mars samples aboard the International Space Station

Scientists from NASA explain why they can't examine Mars samples aboard the International Space Stat ...

At some point in the 2030s, NASA's Mars Sample Return Mission aims to return 30 samples of Mars soil, rock, and atmospheric gas collected by the Perseverance rover.

The Philadelphia Inquirer recently reached out to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory with some of the public's most pressing concerns, and Mars Sample Return scientists Michael Meyer and Lindsay Hays replied.

The main objective of NASA's Perseverance mission is to not only discover more about the Red Planet's composition, but also to look for evidence of ancient microbial life. China's space agency is working hard to beat them to it, although it will collect a smaller sample set than the Perseverance mission.

Will Mars samples from NASA be safe on Earth?

Readers of The Inquirer asked some interesting questions, including whether NASA has assigned a probability for the likelihood we will discover signs of life on Mars.

"Mars has been found to be inhospitable, and that has changed our assessment of the possibility of forward contamination (how likely is it that we would contaminate Mars)," said the NASA scientists. "Yes, in our opinion, the extreme environment on Mars does reduce the likelihood that there is life on the surface of Mars."

"The fact that Mars meteorites are landing on Earth all the time indicates that we have little to worry about," they added. "However, we don't know for sure and we will take all precautions and keep Mars material contained until we prove that they are safe."

Perseverance samples will be stored in a biosafe facility until the 2030s, when they will be stored, sorted, and selected for eventual return to Earth.

NASA scientists said they "are treating the samples with the utmost care as if they were not safe until we can demonstrate that they are."

Why are no Mars samples taken from the International Space Station?

The scientists also stressed that samples must not be sterilized before being returned to Earth because this would mean "a substantial part of the science would be lost." An example of this, they wrote, is the destruction of organic compounds that might be potential biosignatures, which is one of the main reasons for returning samples.

The International Space Station (ISS) would not be able to analyze the samples there, because it does not have the required equipment for such a mission, and the difficulties of extracting samples in space might impede the science.

The Mars Perseverance rover from NASA is pushing the boundaries of space exploration and analysis. These include the first controlled flight of a helicopter on another planet. The Perseverance rover has recently discovered its main mission target, the "Hawksbill Gap."

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