A NASA official has said that Mars samples may be attainable in 10 yearsâ time.
Attaining samples from the red planet has long eluded scientists because of its distance from Earth, but it could become a reality over the next decade through international cooperation, according to NASA official Charles Whetsel.
The manager of the Mars Program Formulation Office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, believes that samples could be retrieved through a type of space relay that uses robots to gather them and spacecraft to bring them to the moon, where humans would then be able to pick them up.
An international collaboration between a number of countries could finally allow researchers to study Mars for signs of life, Whetsel told Xinhua during the 67th International Astronautical Congress held in Mexico’s western city of Guadalajara from Monday to Friday.
Whetsel commented: “We would like to do it by the mid-2020s. The (Mars Rover) mission we are currently working on for 2020 will collect samples we think will be good and valuable to bring to Earth.
As for why this has not been done before, he explained: “It has a lot to do with financial considerations,” as the cost of the complex mission is too high for any single country to finance.
He added: “When you travel to Mars, the most practical thing is not to return directly to earth. You have to first go into Mars’ orbit and then have another spacecraft meet you in that orbit and bring the samples back.
“We have never returned from a mission other than to the moon.
It is anticipated that the 2020 mission will collect some 30 samples, weighing a total of just 500 grams, which will have to be brought back to earth for analysis, as special laboratories are needed to carry out the studies, he said.
Whetsel added: “The idea is to acquire rock samples of the distant history of Mars, when we know it was warm, when we know there was humidity and water.