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NASA plans to bring back rock samples from Mars – US News News – Report by AFR

NASA plans to return 30 rock samples from Mars to Earth in 2033, the agency said Wednesday — and is sending two small helicopters to support the mission.

The Perseverance rover, which landed on Mars in February 2021, has so far collected 11 samples as part of its hunt for signatures of ancient life.

Bringing them back to Earth for detailed laboratory studies, however, is proving to be a highly complex task.

Previously, NASA had planned to send another rover to Mars to pick up Perseverance’s samples and then take them to a robotic lander equipped with its own rocket called the Mars Ascent Vehicle.

This in turn would launch the samples into orbit where they would be collected by a European spacecraft.

But now the second “Sample Fetch Rover” has been scrapped and Perseverance itself will deliver the precious cargo directly to the lander, which will retrieve it with a robotic arm.

But since NASA is always planning for contingencies, they have a backup plan in case Perseverance becomes immobilized.

The lander, which is scheduled to launch from Earth in 2028 and land on Mars in mid-2030, will also have two mini-helicopters on board.

Perseverance brought its own helicopter called Ingenuity, which performed the first powered flight on another world and has now completed 29 missions in total.

The two new helicopters will be slightly heavier, equipped with wheels to be able to move around on the ground and equipped with a small arm with which to retrieve the samples.

In this scenario, Perseverance would first drop the samples on the ground, the helicopters would pick them up, and then place them next to the ascent vehicle.

The orbiter is scheduled to return to Earth in 2033 in the Utah desert.

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