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In just over a decade, a small capsule shaped like a flying saucer will blaze in from space and smash into an empty Utah desert. Inside the capsule, protected by shock absorbers, will be a precious payload: about half a kilogram of rocks gathered on Mars. After years as a dream, Mars sample return (MSR) is now a $7 billion plan, devised jointly by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA).
After the rendezvous, NASA-built robotic mechanisms will shunt the sphere into a containment module, seal it, and sterilize it. Like a Russian nesting doll, the module will be placed within a third protective shell, and then finally a fourth vessel: a disk-shaped vehicle to withstand a fiery, parachuteless re-entry through Earth's atmosphere.
NASA will take a deliberately conservative view in handling pristine returned Martian materials, Race aid. This is both for planetary protection considerations, as noted in Outer Space Treaty requirements that are promulgated by COSPAR, and to protect the scientific integrity of the samples.
"Protocols will be updated well in advance of any sample return mission from Mars. There's already a comprehensive process of review and integration of planetary protection requirements that has been endorsed for implementation well in advance of any sample return mission," Race emphasized.
"Obviously, any Mars sample return plans will comply with the most up-to-date CDC and other requirements,"
Why Scientists Have Been Scared of Space Germs for Almost 50 Years
NASA’s plan for bringing Martian samples home is a bit more advanced. The agency’s Planetary Protection Subcommittee recently laid out its proposal for preventing back contamination. It includes a requirement that any samples brought back to Earth must be either sterilized or packed in a sealed container before being brought aboard the spacecraft. That containment system must also have a redundant failsafe as a backup. They’re not playing around.
Once on Earth, the samples would, according to NASA’s proposal, go straight to a Sample Return Facility, where they would be subjected to a battery of tests for potential biohazards. Once they’re deemed clean, they will be distributed to other research facilities. NASA’s proposed Sample Return Facility would include Biosafety Level 4 labs (the same types of facilities where viruses like Ebola are studied today), as well as cleanrooms to prevent the Martian samples from picking up any stray Earth germs.
originally posted by: shawmanfromny
So, why take a chance of a landing failure that may expose Earth to a potential deadly Mars pathogen?
originally posted by: LSU2018
a reply to: shawmanfromny
With the technology we have today, why can't we just send a spacecraft up there, with actual humans in it, and gather rocks and soil and other samples and then return to Earth?
I don't know how much longer the current civilization will last but if we're ever going to compete with our extraterrestrial counterparts (as we assume they are) then we'll need to start gathering resources from other planets that we don't have here on Earth. Much like aliens take samples of our crops and salt water - and perhaps some of the ocean life.