It's literally picking up where Perseverance left off.
The European Space Agency has shown off a concept for an eight-foot robotic arm, designed to pick up samples of Martian soil — small containers previously prepared by NASA's Perseverance rover — and put them inside a rocket to blast back off the Red Planet.
While NASA has made progress in collecting over half a dozen samples with its rover, it's only a tiny part of a much larger ambitious mission, an exciting endeavor to return the first-ever Martian samples to Earth that's been in the works for what feels like an eternity.
The gadget, dubbed the Sample Transfer Arm (STA), plays a crucial role in NASA and the ESA's plan to return the first Martian samples back to Earth.
The STA is designed to be operated autonomously and will have seven degrees of freedom. It will also be outfitted with two cameras and "a myriad of sensors," according to the ESA.
Best of all, it will also feature a hand-like gripper, making it the ultimate interplanetary picker-upper.
All this equipment will work in tandem to allow the STA to pick up tubes left behind by Perseverance, put them inside a special container, and close the lid in anticipation of launching back off the Martian surface.
The ESA is planning to launch three separate missions before 2030 to return the samples. They'll involve a Rube Goldberg machine of landing, collecting, and storing the samples before delivering them back to Earth.
It's a multi-leg journey: first, the ESA's Mars Ascent Vehicle will launch the samples into orbit, where the ESA's Earth Return Orbiter will rendezvous with the basketball-sized container before making its long journey back home.
In short, there's a lot that can wrong. But given the bright minds at both the ESA and NASA, there might just be a chance we could soon be examining the first Martian samples returned to Earth in history.
READ MORE: The Sample Transfer Arm – A helping hand for Mars [ESA]
More on the mission: New Details Emerge About NASA's Lab to House Martian Samples
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