On July 24, 1969, Apollo 11 command module Columbia splashed down in the Pacific, fulfilling President Kennedy’s goal to land a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth. Among the mission’s many firsts was the acquisition and return of the first samples from another celestial body. Findings based on the 47 pounds (21.5 kilograms) of lunar rock and soil rewrote the textbooks on both the Moon and solar system, and the samples are still being studied today by researchers using new and more sensitive instruments.
With its launch window opening on July 17, 2020 – less than a year from today – NASA’s Mars 2020 rover will mark another first: The roverwill not only seek signs of ancient habitable conditions and past microbial life but will collect rock and soil samples, storing them on the planet’s surface for a future mission to retrieve.
“Apollo 11 demonstrated the immense value of returning samples from other worlds for analysis here on Earth,” said Thomas Zurbuchen,NASA’s associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate. “Today, we are standing on the shoulders of Apollo, preparing for the launch of the initial step in humanity’s first roundtrip and sample return from another planet – Mars.” [More at link]