Can Sample Return Answer Related Questions About Life on Mars? Or will in situ observation work better?
NASA has decided that it only has the funding to do one high-cost, large-scale mission per decade. It had a choice between the Mars sample return and a mission to Jupiter’s moon, Europa. NASA chose to do the Mars sample return and actually ended up only having the funding to collect the samples, not return them to Earth as well. The Europa Clipper mission is postponed, although that moon is still being explored.
For funding reasons, sample return from Mars postponed to next decade.
The decision to postpone the return of the samples to Earth ended up making what was supposed to be a “flagship mission” for a decade turn out to be one for two decades instead. This turned out to be a very expensive move, yet NASA chose to make this mission top priority despite the fact that many people suggested that in situ exploration was the best way to explore possibilities of life on Mars.
It has been suggested by research that sample return results could be hard to decypher or even unreadable.
A study has shown that it is quite likely that the sample return would give us hard-to-interpret, flawed results, just like studying past Mars meteorites. Certain meteorites, like ALH64001, did provide for some interesting observations, though. It was over 4 billion years old, and thought to perhaps contain traces of ancient Martian life. The problem with observations like this, though, are that there are many small meteorites that contain organic matter constantly showering Mars. It is thus very difficult to determine whether the organic matter found in Martian meteorites came from the red planet or not.
ExoMars rover set to explore life on Mars in situ.
The ESA’s Exomars rover is going to explore life on Mars in situ, looking for biosignatures. It will also drill over six feet below the surface, in hopes of learning more about Martian geology. Either way, it is very hard to find well-preserved samples, despite the fact that Martian climate is cold and Mars has no continental drift. This is due to a number of factors, from cosmic radiation levels to the aforementioned organic matter that has been landing on the planet for years.