Washington: An ambitious project that aims to bring rock samples from Mars -- collected by NASA's 2020 Mars rover - to Earth to find out traces of ancient life on the Red Planet can be launched as early as 2022, Space.com reported, citing NASA officials.
Called the “Red Dragon” project, the mission will use the Dragon cargo capsule from US aerospace manufacturer Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX). After a long space journey, the capsule will touch down near the 2020 Mars rover.
The Red Dragon variant will have a robotic arm, extra fuel tanks and a central tube that houses a rocket-powered Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) and an Earth Return Vehicle (ERV).
Red Dragon's robotic arm will grab a sample from the rover's onboard cache and transfer it to a secure containment vessel aboard the ERV, which sits atop the MAV.
The MAV would then blast off, sending the ERV on its way back to Earth.
Red Dragon is “technically feasible with the use of these emerging commercial technologies, coupled with technologies that already exist,” Andy Gonzales from NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, was quoted as saying.
“The team has developed the concept independently without any involvement or endorsement by SpaceX,” Gonzales told the gathering during a presentation with the space agency's Future In-Space Operations (FISO) working group on Wednesday.
There have been some promising discoveries in the recent past, hinting towards the presence of ancient life on Mars.
NASA's current Curiosity rover has confirmed the presence of methane on Mars environment which may hint that life once existed on the Red Planet.
Since methane can be the product of biological activity -- practically all the existing methane in the Earth's atmosphere originates in this way -- this has created great expectations that Martian methane could also be of a similar origin.
“Red Dragon can go anywhere the rover can go, as far as landing elevation and terrain. We are confident we could land in front of the rover and have it drive to us,” Gonzales pointed out.