NASA announced Thursday its new Mars Sample Receiving Project office, responsible for receiving and curating the first samples returned from the Red Planet, will be located at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The safe and rapid release of Mars samples after they return to Earth to laboratories worldwide for science investigations will be a priority. The office will reside within Johnson’s Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science division, NASA’s organization with expertise in processing and curating extraterrestrial samples.
“NASA Johnson houses the largest and most diverse collection of astromaterials in the world, beginning with samples returned from the Apollo Program,” said Johnson Center Director Vanessa Wyche. “With our expertise, we look forward to managing the project that will receive scientifically compelling Mars samples gathered by the NASA Perseverance rover.”
Johnson will work with the agency’s Mars Exploration Program to develop and design plans for sample recovery and subsequent transition to science investigations. The project team will recover, contain, transfer, assess safety, curate, and coordinate scientific investigation of the samples collected by NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover, which are expected to arrive on Earth in 2033.
Samples returned to Earth will enhance humanity’s understanding of Mars through detailed chemical and physical analyses in laboratories around the world that are beyond the capabilities of instruments delivered to Mars. Perseverance is gathering samples in and around Jezero Crater, where billions of years ago, a river once flowed into a lake and deposited rocks and sediments in a fan shaped delta formation. Deltas are one of the best places on Mars to search for potential signs of ancient microbial life.
“Johnson will work with the agency’s Mars Exploration Program and ESA to complete studies and develop plans for sample recovery and transportation, facility development and operation, and science investigations,” said Gerhard Kminek, ESA’s MSR lead scientist. To learn more, visit the NASA Sample Return Mission website here.