Is there life on Mars? NASA is still trying to find out, discovering evidence of water in a Martian meteorite just over a week ago. But though scientists are happy to investigate meteorites and live vicariously through robotic rovers roaming the Red Planet, they’re really itching to get their hands on samples scooped right off the Martian surface to analyze here at home. Now, a team at NASA believes they can do so cost-effectively, as soon as 2022, by relying on commercial spaceflight provider SpaceX for a little help.
Scientists have blueprinted a low-cost Mars sample-return mission that would use a souped-up Dragon capsule from the private spacefligth company SpaceX and the firm’s planned Falcon Heavy rocket to get to the Red Planet by the early 2020s. The new study demonstrates the viability of the entry, descent and landing of the unmanned Dragon space capsule at Mars. Moreover, the spacecraft’s descent technique would help set the stage for future human missions to the Red Planet, researchers said. The idea is to leverage emerging commercial capabilities to achieve Mars sample-return (MSR) without breaking the bank, perhaps in 2022. Most scientists regard a sample-return trip as a “Holy Grail” mission — the best way to look for signs of past or present life on the Red Planet.