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Waiting for an important announcement from NASA

Waiting for an important announcement from NASA

The fate of the Mars samples collected by the Perseverance rover for return to Earth hangs by a thread. Tonight, NASA will make a big announcement.

A tube filled by the Perseverance rover with Martian samples. Image source: NASA/JPL-Caltech

At 7:00 pm Italian time today, Monday, April 15, 2024, NASA He will hold a press conference during which he will explain the now uncertain fate of very important people Samples from Mars And Returns to Earth. Among the mission's workers Mars 2020 Which landed – or rather, fell – in February 2021 Rover Perseverance On Mars there actually is Mars sample return (MSR). It is a joint plan between NASA and the European Space Agency (European Space Agency(Specifically aimed at transporting rock and soil samples to our planet)The rich) uncontaminated, collected on “Red planet“And include it in Cylindrical tubes in Titanium From a nuclear-powered spacecraft. But the project suffered a major setback last year when A Independent review It has highlighted various problems, both Economic nature (budget available) and techniques. If that wasn't enough, the Stars and Stripes space agency has also had to lay off some of its staff Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is directly involved in the MSR project. Tonight we will find out in detail what will happen to this pioneering but very complex mission.

Just over 3 years ago, the Perseverance rover landed in… Jezero crater Mars which, according to experts, once was Lake bottom. for him Sediments Therefore, it is considered very valuable, as well as for understanding the potential Having a past life On the fourth planet of the solar system. Since it started running along the hole, the robot began taking samples and placing them in advanced capsules. About thirty of them were filled with samples of igneous and sedimentary rocks, regolith and even simple atmosphere. These tubes — 43 in all — are designed to be left in the field and withstand extended exposure to Martian weather, such as dust storms and deadly ultraviolet radiation. The goal of the initial plan with ESA was to recover the capsules By 2033This was done through an unprecedented mission that envisioned the arrival of a probe to the Earth of Mars capable of collecting these objects, taking off, meeting the mother probe in the orbit of the red planet, and departing to Earth with the precious payload. This is easier said than done, given that this is the first time for each of these very sensitive stages. We know very well what it is Failure rates Robotic missions, even to the nearest moon.

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The biggest setback, as mentioned, came from an independent review commissioned by NASA itself. the final report”Mars Sample Return (MSR) Final Report of the Independent Review Board 2“The post on September 1, 2023 came to the conclusion that the budget and forecasts were simply miss.”unrealisticAmong the critical issues highlighted are limited mass margins; uncertainties regarding the performance of spacecraft that must be purpose-built; limited launch windows (due to the orbital distance between Mars and Earth, with large periodic changes); multiple transfers; skills needed; aging telecommunications equipment and much more. If that's not enough, NASA's overall funding has been cut for 2024 Nearly half a billion dollars, with the Mars Sample Return project particularly impressed. It is no coincidence that NASA had to lay off many employees, including several mission commanders.

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All of this has greatly increased the risk that samples collected by Perseverance will get stuck in the Martian regolith, although NASA still has great faith in the importance of this mission. “Mars sample return has been a major long-term goal of international planetary exploration over the past two decades. NASA's Perseverance spacecraft is collecting important scientific samples that will help scientists understand the geologic history of Mars, the evolution of its climate, and prepare for future human explorers.” Bringing back the samples will also help NASA search for signs of ancient life. The agency commented. We only have to wait for tonight's press conference to know the fate of this important scientific goal.

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