How can we bring a sample of Mars safely back to Earth? With scientists worldwide curious about the Red Planet’s potential for life, NASA and the European Space Agency are working on a future “sample-return” mission to safely study Mars materials.

One possible location for sample hunting could be a Martian spot called Jezero Crater, the site of an ancient lake — and possibly, also a location for ancient microbes.

While rovers and landers can study Mars when they land there, the challenge is that there is only so much space available on these machines for instruments. On Earth, entire laboratories could study Red Planet regolith (soil) and rocks. But getting the samples back to our planet will be a considerable engineering challenge.

ESA officials said in a statement that the two agencies plan to perform three launches from Earth and one from Mars as part of the mission, which will include two Mars rovers and an autonomous docking in Martian orbit.

“A NASA launch will send the sample return lander mission to land a platform near the Mars 2020 site. From here, a small ESA rover — the Sample Fetch Rover — will head out to retrieve the cached samples,” ESA officials said in another statement.

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