Since Mariner 9 entered orbit around Mars on November 14, 1971, NASA has been continuously studying the Red Planet. The Viking landers reached the surface of Mars five years later and began sampling the soil. Since then, numerous landers and rovers with instruments from institutions across Earth have studied and traveled the red terrain in search of answers to many of our questions.
But all of the sample analysis has had to rely on the robotic laboratories and the data streams beamed back to Earth. Now, NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) are seeking to change that with the Mars Sample Return mission — for which a rocket launched from Earth and landed on Mars will be needed to bring Martian samples up to a waiting Earth Return Orbiter.