NASA announced Thursday its new Mars Sample Receiving Project office after receiving the green light for a new facility responsible for receiving and curating the first samples returned from the Red Planet and perhaps alien life. and will be located at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The safe and rapid release of Mars samples after they return to Earth to laboratories worldwide for science investigations will be a priority.
The facility, based in Texas, should be ready by 2033 when the samples from Mars’ Perseverance rover are expected to arrive on Earth.
“NASA Johnson houses the largest and most diverse collection of Astro materials in the world, beginning with samples returned from the Apollo Program,” said Johnson Center Director Vanessa Wyche. “With our expertise, we look forward to managing the project that will receive scientifically compelling Mars samples gathered by the NASA Perseverance rover.”
Known as the Mars Sample Receiving (MSR) project, this endeavor is, per NASA, “expected to be the most complex robotic space flight campaign ever attempted,” and is scheduled to kick off in about a decade once the samples make their way back to Earth.
Samples returned to Earth will enhance humanity’s understanding of Mars through detailed chemical and physical analyses in laboratories around the world that are beyond the capabilities of instruments delivered to Mars.
A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including caching samples that may contain signs of ancient microbial life. The rover is currently characterizing the planet’s geology and past climate, paving the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and is the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith.
“Age-old samples, like those being collected on Mars, are critical in our quest to better understand our universe,” said Rep. Brian Babin of Texas. “I’m proud Johnson will lead NASA’s effort in curating these samples and play a key role in propelling our scientific discoveries forward.”
Perseverance is currently gathering samples around the Jezero Crater, where scientists believe a river flowed into a lake, billions of years ago. Areas like this, filled with rocks and sediments, are one of the best places on Mars to search for potential signs of ancient microbial life.