Downtown Los Angeles Skyline

Adam Steltzner: Bringing a Piece of Mars Home

Adam Steltzner: NASA reaches out to the science community every ten years or so and asks the scientists in this nation what should NASA be doing. They develop a little book called the Decadal Survey. For several Decadal Surveys, the scientists of this nation have been giving a top priority to the act of taking samples from Mars and bringing them back to Earth. Now, we can cram a lot of ingenuity to our spacecraft to go and experiment on Mars, but nothing matches the ingenuity that we have back here on Earth. So, our next mission to Mars, mars 2020, for which I'm the chief engineer, will go to Mars, will rove around the surface and carefully choose places on Mars to sample, seal these samples of the Martian surface on careful, sterile vessels for eventual return to Earth.

Val Zavala: Eventual return? Meaning we do not yet know how we would go there and pick them up and bring them back? 

Adam Steltzner: We know how we would do it, we have yet, the nation is yet to commit to all of the missions necessary to bring them home. But, they have committed to the mission to take the samples and make them ready to return them home.

Val Zavala: But so far we've only made the one-way trip? 

Adam Steltzner: So far we've only made the one-way trip. 

Val Zavala: So Mars 2020, why is it 2020 is it because... 

Adam Steltzner: We launch in 2020

Val Zavala: You launch in 2020 

Adam Steltzner: We launch in 2020. 

Val Zavala: And that's because Mars and Earth are in a particularly advantageous position? 

Adam Steltzner: The way Mars and Earth both go around the Sun, there are only a few opportunities about every 26 months or so for you to go from Earth to Mars in within energetically favorable conditions. And so our next opportunity was in 2018, and the one after that is in 2020. And we will launch on that opportunity and put a huge rover, very much the same size and similar to the Curiosity Rover that we landed in 2012. 

Adam Steltzner, JPL Chief Engineer for the Mars 2020 Project, explains the Mars 2020 Project and how NASA plans to collect and store samples from the Martian surface. 

Get the free PBS App

Upcoming Airdates

There are no airdates scheduled at this time. Visit our Shows page to discover other programs you may enjoy.