NASA to launch two more helicopters to Mars

NASA launches two more small helicopters to Mars as part of its effort to return Martian rocks and soil samples towards the earth.

According to the plan announced in late July, NASA’s Perseverance rover will carry soil samples to a rocket. The rocket will then launch the collected material off the Red Planet in about 10 years.

The two helicopters being built will help NASA’s Perseverance rover, which is already on Mars. Helicopters will load samples onto the return rocket if NASA’s Perseverance rover fails.

Perseverance has already collected 11 samples and further rock drilling is planned. The most recent sample, a sedimentary rock, holds the greatest chance of containing possible evidence of ancient Martian life, said Meenakshi Wadhwa of Arizona State University. Wadhwa is Chief Scientist for the recovery effort.

There’s “a diversity of material already in the bag, so to speak,” she said, adding that the researchers are very excited to bring the materials back to Earth.

The helicopters will be modeled after the success of NASA’s Ingenuity. He has completed 29 flights since arriving with Perseverance on Mars early last year. The helicopter weighs only 1.8 kg. New versions will have wheels and arms.

NASA officials said Perseverance’s strong performance on Mars led them to change their plan to launch a separate vehicle.

Jeff Gramling, director of NASA’s Mars Sample Return Program, said the new way forward is simpler. Each helicopter will be designed to lift a sample tube at a time, going back and forth several times.

“We have trust that we can rely on Perseverance to bring the samples back and we’ve added the helicopters as a backup,” Gramling said.

NASA is working with the European Space Agency on the recovery mission. If all goes as planned, no less than 30 samples would be launched from Mars in 2031 and return to Earth in 2033.

Scientists will then study the samples in laboratories. They will look for signs of microbial life that may have existed on Mars billions of years ago when water flowed across the planet.

I am John Russell.

Marcia Dunn reported this story for The Associated Press. John Russell adapted it for VOA Learning English.

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words in this story

to taste – nm a small amount of something that gives you information about the thing it was taken from

sedimentary – (scientific adj.) made from material that sinks to the bottom of a liquid: made from sediment

recovery – nm the act or process of obtaining and bringing back something; the act or process of getting something back

tube nm a container which has the shape of a tube which is closed at one end and which is used in particular in scientific experiments

trust nm a feeling or belief that something is true or is likely to happen

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