Scientists at the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have come up with a novel plan that can send Martian rocks to Earth.
NASA has been studying the surface and atmosphere of Mars for a few decades now. However, rock or soil samples have never reached the Earth.
Ashwin Vasavada, project head for NASA's Curiosity Rover mission, explains that the space agency is working on a plan that will see Martian rocks being sent to the Earth where geologists will be able to study them in detail.
Vasavada is a planetary scientist who was the deputy project scientist for the Curiosity rover mission since 2004. He was recently appointed as the project head. Vasavada revealed a multi-stage plan that can bring back Martian rocks to the Earth.
The new Curiosity mission head revealed that NASA is estimated to send another rover to the Red Planet in 2020. One of the objectives of the rover will be to find evidence of any life that existed on the planet. NASA is also designing the rover to collect soil and rock samples from the planet and stock them in a cache.
A separate NASA mission will send another rover and a rocket to Mars. The rover will collect the cache left behind by the previous rover and load them on to a rocket, which will launch and place the collected samples in the planet's orbit.
Finally, NASA will send a spacecraft that will get hold of the samples from the orbit and then bring them to the Earth.
Vasavada revealed that the agency is hoping to bring back Martian rocks to the Earth before the first manned mission to the planet in the 2030s. NASA scientists suggest that it will be challenging and will require a joint effort from other space agencies of the world.
"If we continue to send more and more robotics missions to Mars, we'll send better technology. Right now, we're in a little bit of the dark ages, looking at flat monitors with 2D pictures because it's difficult to keep the technology we send into space current with the technology we have on Earth," said Vasavada.
NASA has already partnered with India's space agency, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), for its future explorations of Mars and Earth. The agreement between the space agencies confirms their engagement to work together on the NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) mission that is targeted to launch in 2020.
More space exploration partnerships may help in speeding up the Mars exploration efforts in the near term.