When the Mars 2020 rover makes its journey to the Red Planet, the robot will have a special mission. It's going to pick up samples off the surface, put them in tubes and deposit them at various places on its journey. These little treasures will be left there for a few years until another mission can pick them up, retrieve them and bring them back to Earth, NASA said in a statement last month. "In laboratories on Earth, specimens from Mars could be analyzed for evidence of past life on Mars and possible health hazards for future human missions," the agency said.
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Sample return has been a dream for scientists for many years. While rovers such as Curiosity are very capable science machines, the equipment they can bring to Mars is limited. Meanwhile, the U.S. is ramping up its capabilities in sample return generally with the OSIRIS-ReX mission, set to launch next month to fly to asteroid Bennu and bring back some bits of it for analysis on Earth.
What are the steps in Mars sample return? Here are some of the steps that NASA has outlined:
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