This illustration shows a concept of what a rover fetching rock and soil samples on Mars for return to Earth could look like.

This illustration shows a concept of what a rover fetching rock and soil samples on Mars for return to Earth could look like. The sample tube in this image would have been left on the surface by a previous mission, NASA's Mars 2020 rover.

NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are solidifying concepts for a Mars sample return mission to return Mars 2020 samples to Earth for scientific investigation.

NASA will deliver a Mars lander in the vicinity of Jezero Crater, where the Mars 2020 rover will have collected and cached samples. The lander will carry a NASA rocket (the Mars Ascent Vehicle) along with ESA's Sample Fetch Rover that is roughly the size of NASA's Opportunity Mars rover. The fetch rover will gather the cached samples and carry them back to the lander for transfer to the ascent vehicle; additional samples could also be delivered directly by Mars 2020. The ascent vehicle will then launch a special container holding the samples into Mars orbit.

ESA will put a spacecraft in orbit around Mars before the ascent vehicle launches. This spacecraft will rendezvous with and capture the orbiting samples before returning them to Earth. NASA will provide the payload module for the orbiter.

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