NASA is preparing a brand new secure facility to contain potential alien life forms.
The Mars Sample Receiving Project office will be responsible for receiving and curating the first samples to be collected from the Red Planet. It's expected to open for business in 2033.
NASA’s Perseverance rover deposited its first canister – which coincidentally looks like a lightsaber – of soil samples onto the surface of Mars on December 21 last year.
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It’s hoped the samples will contain the first evidence of extraterrestrial life. Even if there are no living organisms in the Martian soil samples, scientists believe they will at least find fossil traces of life from the distant past.
Perseverance is currently gathering samples in and around Jezero Crater, where billions of years ago a river once flowed into a lake and created a fan-shaped delta.
River deltas are considered to be one of the most likely spots to find signs of ancient microbial life.
The rover is collecting soil samples in metal tubes – reminiscent of the handle of Death Vader’s light sabre – which will one day be collected and returned to Earth.
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A NASA spacecraft, scheduled to launch in five years’ time, will collect the samples with the help of two mini-helicopters.
Once all 10 samples are collected they will be loaded into the Mars Ascent Vehicle, set to be the first rocket ever to blast off from the Red Planet, for a rendezvous with the European Space Agency’s Earth Return Orbiter.
Then, in 2033, the first soil samples from another planet will be flown through the Earth’s atmosphere in a unique disc-shaped spacecraft called the Earth Entry System before being collected and shipped to the Mars Sample Receiving Project office at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston.
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The samples will be a massive step forward in the hunt for extraterrestrial life.
“Age-old samples, like those being collected on Mars, are critical in our quest to better understand our universe,” said Texas state representative Brian Babin. “I’m proud Johnson will lead NASA’s effort in curating these samples and play a key role in propelling our scientific discoveries forward.”
His colleague Sheila Jackson Lee added: “The Mars Sample Return Program is essential for the human exploration of Mars.
"Establishing this Sample Receiving Project office is a large step forward in helping us gain knowledge and make progress in our efforts to go to Mars."
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