The rover was a critical element of the Mars Sample Return mission, which aims to retrieve Martian soil and rock for study on Earth in the 2030s. Scientists are hoping to prove once and for all whether life has ever existed on the Red Planet.
This surprise cancellation follows four years of design work by Airbus engineers in Hertfordshire.
NASA and ESA announced the project’s termination at a press conference last week. In a surprising turn of events, they plan to repurpose the Perseverance rover, already stationed on Mars, to complete the mission. Perseverance has been drilling into the site of an ancient lake, searching for signs of bygone microbial life. The rover is gathering and storing samples in titanium tubes for return to Earth.
Two new helicopters will also be launched as a backup. They will leap into action should Perseverance fail to break down and store samples. NASA’s jet propulsion lab has been testing whether the helicopters will be able to pick up the rover’s tubes if required.
NASA attributed this change of plan to a re-evaluation of Perseverance’s lifespan. However, it’s speculated that NASA and ESA had no choice but to cut costs after Russian space agency withdrew from several missions due to the Ukraine war.
Russia has also announced that it will be withdrawing from the International Space Station in 2024, six years earlier than anticipated.
The Mars Sample Return mission is vital in our quest to understand Martian history. Following this roadblock, we hope NASA and ESA will be able to answer once and for all – is there, or has there ever been, life on Mars?
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