After decades of (mostly) successful one-way missions from Earth to Mars, NASA is now considering the possibility of returning scientifically-selected samples of Mars rock, soil, and atmosphere to Earth for detailed analysis in our most capable laboratories. The Mars Sample Return mission is a fascinating systems engineering challenge. It involves all of the usual operations of a Mars rover mission, but adds new functions to package and launch the samples into Mars orbit, capture them, and return them safely to Earth. Because the Mars samples may contain biologically active materials, prudence dictates that we treat the samples as potentially hazardous unless contained or sterilized. A number of new technologies are needed to enable this mission: (1) a Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) to bring the samples from Mars surface to Mars orbit, (2) a method of rendezvousing with and capturing the samples once in Mars orbit, and (3) a method for breaking the chain of contact with Mars surface material and ensuring that the Mars samples remain contained throughout all remaining mission phases including a hard landing on the ground at Earth. This talk will highlight some of the most critical technologies being developed for the Mars Sample Return mission.
Joe Parrish is currently the Deputy Manager of the Mars Program Formulation Office at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, CA. He also manages Mars Technology Development at JPL, specifically targeting the enabling technologies for Mars Sample Return. Joe previously served as Robotic Systems Architect for the International Space Station Program, Program Executive in the Office of Space Science at NASA Headquarters, president of a small aerospace firm in Cambridge, MA, and as NASA’s Deputy Chief Technologist. Joe holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Aeronautics and Astronautics from MIT.