The most expensive material on Earth will eventually be red soil from Mars. NASA will launch three missions to harvest and transport less than one kilogram of Mars soil. The overall cost will be $9 billion, split between the European Space Agency and NASA.
The soil on mars is rich in minerals like hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen. It is believed that plants can be cultivated on the planet with a greenhouse and minor purification of the soil. If Mars' surface had been 100% perfectly flat and its underlying ice was warmed, the planet would've been covered in a 100-meter-deep ocean!
Apart from its rich soil, Mars is rich in natural resources. Due to earlier volcanic and hydrolytic activities, Mars is presumed to have a lot of precious stones and various metals, both precious and industrial. Mars also has materials to manufacture factories, houses, and solar panels. In addition to this, several precious meteors also fell on Mars, most notably the "The Heat Shield Rock" made of 93% iron!
The single most important reason NASA wants to bring back soil on Earth is to see if we are the only ones who dwell in the cosmos. It is only natural to be curious about how such a massive universe exists with life only on Earth. It may take us another decade or more to find out for sure.
Since February 2021, NASA's Perseverance rover has been on Mars' surface, joining NASA's Curiosity rover, which has already been exploring the Red Planet since 2012. The Curiosity rover explores Martian terrains while the Perseverance rovers' mission is to collect Martian dirt and bring it back to Earth.
Mars sample collection will end in 2023, and the sample will be returned to Earth almost a decade later, in 2031. The sample will be transferred from the rover to a spaceship that will land on Mars and fly off. It will be the first rocket to launch from a planet other than Earth.
To help with the launch, NASA developed a resource utilization experiment called Moxie to turn the Martian atmosphere into oxygen. The rocket will connect with a spacecraft that has been waiting for it. The spacecraft will launch from Earth simultaneously with the fetch rover. It retrieves the basketball-sized case with the samples as soon as it arrives. Then it's on to a different spacecraft where the samples will be returned to Earth by a spacecraft powered by electricity in the United States near Utah. The time and expenses incurred throughout these three missions will cost around $9 billion, making Martian soil priceless!
However, it is not as easy as it seems. All this will only be possible given the missions are successful. Only 19 of 45 trips to Mars have been successful since the first launch in 1960, accounting for slightly over40% of the total. Each expedition to land on Mars is still a one-of-a-kind gamble, despite the technological advancements and experiences of more than half a century.
But picture this: over the next 10 years, we will be a step closer to our neighbor in space. We might be able to feel Mars, not just look at it through a telescope, and find out if we are the only ones on the planet. The Martian dirt will answer three important questions:
· What were the conditions of Mars over the years?
· Was there ever life on the Red Planet?
· Can humans live on Mars?