NASA is asking the public to comment on an environmental assessment for its Mars sample return effort.
The project, a collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA), aims to bring samples collected by the Perseverance Mars rover to Earth, perhaps as early as 2033. Once they’re here, scientists in labs around the world will examine them. looking for signs. of life on Mars and clues to the evolutionary history of the Red Planet.
Comments are due May 16, either online or by mail. The agency also plans to hold two virtual public meetings at this link. Meetings will be Wednesday (May 4) at 3 pm EDT (1900 GMT) and Thursday (May 5) at 8 pm EDT (0000 GMT on Friday May 6).
“Public meetings will include briefings on the status of the National Environmental Policy Act process for the proposed program, as well as its scientific purpose and objectives,” NASA said in an April 29 statement.
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“The meetings will also cover why the U.S. Air Force-operated Utah Test and Training Range is the proposed landing site for the samples, and what planners are doing to ensure the safe return of the samples.” , a topic known as backward planetary protection,” the agency added.
Public comments will be considered during the development of the draft Mars sample return environmental impact statement, which will also be released for public comment in 2022 if the schedule is maintained, NASA officials said.
The request for public input comes after some changes to the sample return campaign that were announced a few weeks ago.
In March, NASA determined that developing a second lander would be preferable due to the massive requirements of the mission. That second lander will carry ESA’s “search vehicle,” while the first will carry NASA’s Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV).
The mission requires the search rover to retrieve Perseverance’s cached samples, which the rover is collecting on the floor of Mars’ Jezero Crater, and then place them in the MAV. The MAV will launch the samples into Mars orbit, where an ESA-provided Earth Return Orbiter will pick them up and return them to our planet.
The addition of a second lander to the process pushes the proposed launch date back two years to 2028, and the arrival of the samples on Earth has been pushed back to 2033 from 2031.
NASA officials said the revised plan “is consistent with the Mars Sample Return Independent Review Board (IRB) finding that a dual landing architecture can improve the likelihood of mission success.”