WASHINGTON, Aug. 14 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say they are preparing for the day when they can study materials returned to Earth from Mars or other planetary bodies.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Mars Exploration Program includes transporting planetary samples to Earth for in-depth analysis. Now scientists involved in that program's analysis group have determined 11 scientific objectives for analyzing Martian samples.
"Spacecraft instrumentation cannot perform critical measurements, such as precise radiometric age dating, sophisticated stable isotopic analyses and definitive life-detection assays," the researchers note. They said direct access to Martian samples would enable sub-sampling for different types of analysis, as well as sample archiving for future studies.
Unlike meteorite samples from Mars, returned samples could be collected from multiple sites with defined contextual information, the researchers noted.
The study is reported in the journal Astrobiology, along with a collection of papers that describe "Instruments for In Situ Exploration of Planets," compiled by scientists from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology.