NASA is already preparing its lab to look for life in Mars samples

It is time for NASA to plan the place where the Martian samples will be stored and analyzed. An office will be allocated for Perseverance sampling, within the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center.

While the Perseverance rover collects samples (and deposits some) on Mars, NASA is also active on Earth. The samples from the robot must return to our planet by 2033, reported by a sample return mission. For the moment, the infrastructures necessary for the storage and study of these Martian samples do not yet exist.

On January 23, 2023, the US space agency gave the news, announcing that this strategic location would be located at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Texas. An office will be specifically allocated to the reception and conservation of these samples recovered from Mars. It is also in this space center that the lunar samples from the Apollo program are carefully stored.

The Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. // Source: Flickr/CC/Wally Gobetz (cropped and edited photo)

In the long term, NASA does not aim to jealously guard all these Martian samples. It is expected that samples will be sent to other laboratories around the world, so that they can also analyze them. The study of these rock fragments and the soil of Mars should allow scientists to better understand the history of the planet.

Even if the Mars rovers are equipped to analyze their own samples, their resources on site remain limited compared to what researchers can do in a laboratory. The most advanced analyzes can only take place on Earth.

Will we find life in the Martian samples?

The return of Perseverance samples is all the more important as, for the first time, there is a microbiological dimension. Never before have samples been brought back from space in order to study the traces of life. NASA regularly reminds that one of the objectives of its rover is to do astrobiology, and therefore to look for signs of an existing life or having existed on Mars.

That said, we must remain measured: it will be very complicated to be able to affirm, on analysis of these samples, that we have discovered life. Even if the scientists identify, in the samples of the rover, a bacterium multiplying before their eyes under the microscope, they will still have to eliminate the trail of contamination from these samples.


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