A CGI demonstration of the Martian samples on their journey to EarthCredit: nasa
Nasa has received the green light for a new facility to house Martian samples – and perhaps alien life.
The facility, based in Texas, should be ready by 2033, when the samples from Mars’ Perseverance rover are expected to arrive on Earth.
It will be the first time in human history that scientifically selected samples from another planet exist on Earth.
To get the samples to Earth, humans must first launch from the surface of another planet – in another first-of-its-kind feat.
Scientists from Nasa and the European Space Agency (ESA) will use the facility to contain, transfer, assess the safety and coordinate scientific investigation of the samples.
The facility, known as the Mars Sample Receiving Project office, will be located at Nasa’s Johnson Space Centre 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,” Nasa said in a statement.
It eases concerns from scientists that scientific samples from the Red Planet may fall under the responsibility of Space Force, the US government’s space-defence organisation.
Johnson Centre director Vanessa Wyche said: “Nasa Johnson houses the largest and most diverse collection of astromaterials in the world, beginning with samples returned from the Apollo Program.”
“With our expertise, we look forward to managing the project that will receive scientifically compelling Mars samples gathered by the Nasa Perseverance rover.”
The precious samples will help weave humanity’s understanding of Mars through detailed chemical and physical analyses from laboratories around the world.
Perseverance is currently gathering samples around the Jezero Crater, where scientists believe a river flowed into a lake, billions of years ago.
Areas like this, filled with rocks and sediments, are one of the best places on Mars to search for potential signs of ancient microbial life.