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The long road to returning first-ever samples from Mars

August 1, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

The Perseverance rover will collect up to 43 samples from the ancient lake and river delta it will explore on Mars. The samples, which could contain evidence of ancient microbial life, will be collected by a future mission and returned to Earth. But we won't see those samples until 10 years from now.

(CNN)When NASA's Perseverance rover touches down on Mars in February 2021, the mission will spend the next two years exploring one of the oldest and most intriguing sites on the red planet: Jezero Crater.

It's the site of an ancient lake bed and river delta that existed between 3 and 4 billion years ago -- when Mars was warmer, wetter and habitable for potential life.

The rover will not only explore Jezero Crater using new scientific instruments, cameras and microphones, but collect the first samples that will ever be returned from Mars to Earth by future planned missions.

So when Perseverance roves across Jezero Crater, it will be able to observe and sample the well-preserved past of Mars.

Scientists estimate that water filled the impact crater to form a lake about 3. 8 billion years ago -- right when life was starting on Earth, according to Briony Horgan, member of the Perseverance science team and associate professor of planetary science at Purdue University.

First, Perseverance will explore the river delta, followed by the crater rim, and eventually, "drive out of the crater and explore the wonderland of earliest history of Mars," according to Benjamin Weiss, a professor of planetary sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the Returned Sample scientists for Perseverance.

While Perseverance has the ability to fill 43 sample tubes over the course of its two-year exploration of the 28-mile-wide crater and the surrounding area, there will only be space for 31 of the tubes to return to Earth.

Lunar samples returned to Earth by the Apollo missions have changed our understanding of the moon over the last 50 years, including how it may have formed.

In 2026, NASA and ESA will launch the Mars Ascent Vehicle lander and rocket carrying the Sample Fetch Rover.

Then, scientists from around the world will be able to study and analyzes the chemical and physical properties of these rock and soil samples for Mars, searching for signs of past life.

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