MARCH 5, 2020 - Today, Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, a NASA Associate Administrator, announced that the Mars 2020 rover will be named Perseverance. NASA's next Mars rover won't just explore the Red Planet; it will be the “first leg of the first round-trip mission” to return Martian soil samples to Earth. Known as the Mars 2020 mission, the upcoming rover will hunt for signs of habitable environments on Mars while searching for signs of past microbial life. According to Space.com, this robotic traveler will also cache a series of samples that can be returned to Earth with a future mission. Based upon the television announcement today, the return mission will be in about 10 years, making that 2030.
How does that work? A future mission around 2029 would deliver a return rocket to the surface of Mars where a soil sample will have been collected by this Mars rover ( that is, if we can interpret the above literally). According to the JPL announcement, the return mission will be executed using that rocket launched from Mars with the samples of Martian soil.
Will that mission offer a real payout in terms of discovering microbial life? Maybe not. Elon Musk and SpaceX plan to land a manned mission on Mars around 2024. That means that there will be a human SpaceX astronaut awaiting the arrival of the robotic JPL mission in 2030 (!). Somehow, I’d say that just won’t happen the way JPL anticipates. Of course, if the SpaceX mission fails, then the Mars 2030 mission will probably be a successful backup. We’ll all just have to wait and see.
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