University of Alberta scientist to participate in NASA Mars project

This artist's concept depicts NASA's Mars 2020 rover exploring and taking a core sample on the Red Planet. The mission will investigate the geology of Jezero Crater. It will acquire and store samples of the most promising rocks and soils that it encounter

University of Alberta scientist to participate in NASA Mars project

Herd, an Edmonton geologist, will decide which Martian meteorites are collected on NASA's 2020 expedition to the Red Planet.

Subsequent missions, now under consideration by NASA (in conjunction with the European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these cached samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.

"It's super exciting. It's unbelievable", Herd said in an interview with CBC News.

Herd won't actually go to Mars, but will be one of 10 experts who will help ensure samples collected by the rover will give insights to the planet's geological history. First, they will drill for the samples and later, another rover will be sent to space to collect them, and then they will be brought back to Earth.

He said: "I am convinced that by the end of the century, the Mars colony will count 10s if not 100,000 residents".

"The rover is equipped with all these instruments to tell us what the rocks are made of, but it has the additional ability to core that sample out, seal it in a tube and leave for eventual return to Earth".

Herd and Bosak and the eight other Returned Sample Science Participating Scientists have hit the ground running since joining the Mars 2020 science team in the fall of 2019, working on research projects and contributing to mission planning.

The rover has a life span of one Mars year, about 687 Earth days.

"It's too expensive to do it all at once", Herd said.

"A second mission, with both crew and cargo, is targeted for 2024, with primary objectives of building a propellant depot and preparing for future crew flights".

The samples gathered could not only provide a glimpse into the past but address fundamental questions about the potential for future human life on Mars, Herd said. The rover is expected to reach its target landing zone on Mars, which is the Jezero Crater, on February 18, 2021.

The rover will be scouring the Jezero Crater, an ancient lake bed, for signs of past microbial life.

"The delta sediments became rock and are still there, that was three-and-half, four-billion years ago, we think approximately when that happened, and the rocks are still there for us to go and interrogate".

"Where we are going is where the action is", he said. Even if one of his projects has a two or three-year delay, it will eventually be realized.

According to NASA, the launch date was specifically selected in order to minimize the mission's travel time from Earth to Mars. "The samples would come back sometime in 2031 or likely a little later".

The Mars 2020 Rover will blast off in a $2 billion mission scientists hope will settle once and for all if there are aliens on the Red Planet - or if they used to exist there.

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