The Scientific Importance of Returning Airfall Dust as a Part of Mars Sample Return (MSR)

Monica M. Grady, Roger E. Summons, Timothy D. Swindle, Frances Westall, Gerhard Kminek, Michael A. Meyer, David W. Beaty, Brandi L. Carrier, Timothy Haltigin, Lindsay E. Hays, Carl B. Agee, Henner Busemann, Barbara Cavalazzi, Charles S. Cockell, Vinciane Debaille, Daniel P. Glavin, Ernst Hauber, Aurore Hutzler, Bernard Marty, Francis M. McCubbinLisa M. Pratt, Aaron B. Regberg, Alvin L. Smith, Caroline L. Smith, Kimberly T. Tait, Nicholas J. Tosca, Arya Udry, Tomohiro Usui, Michael A. Velbel, Meenakshi Wadhwa, Maria Paz Zorzano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Dust transported in the martian atmosphere is of intrinsic scientific interest and has relevance for the planning of human missions in the future. The MSR Campaign, as currently designed, presents an important opportunity to return serendipitous, airfall dust. The tubes containing samples collected by the Perseverance rover would be placed in cache depots on the martian surface perhaps as early as 2023-24 for recovery by a subsequent mission no earlier than 2028-29, and possibly as late as 2030-31. Thus, the sample tube surfaces could passively collect dust for multiple years. This dust is deemed to be exceptionally valuable as it would inform our knowledge and understanding of Mars' global mineralogy, surface processes, surface-Atmosphere interactions, and atmospheric circulation. Preliminary calculations suggest that the total mass of such dust on a full set of tubes could be as much as 100 mg and, therefore, sufficient for many types of laboratory analyses. Two planning steps would optimize our ability to take advantage of this opportunity: (1) the dust-covered sample tubes should be loaded into the Orbiting Sample container (OS) with minimal cleaning and (2) the capability to recover this dust early in the workflow within an MSR Sample Receiving Facility (SRF) would need to be established. A further opportunity to advance dust/atmospheric science using MSR, depending upon the design of the MSR Campaign elements, may lie with direct sampling and the return of airborne dust. FINDING D-1: An accumulation of airfall dust would be an unavoidable consequence of leaving M2020 sample tubes cached and exposed on the surface of Mars. Detailed laboratory analyses of this material would yield new knowledge concerning surface-Atmosphere interactions that operate on a global scale, as well as provide input to planning for the future robotic and human exploration of Mars. FINDING D-2: The detailed information that is possible from analysis of airfall dust can only be obtained by investigation in Earth laboratories, and thus this is an important corollary aspect of MSR. The same information cannot be obtained from orbit, from in situ analyses, or from analyses of samples drilled from single locations. FINDING D-3: Given that at least some martian dust would be on the exterior surfaces of any sample tubes returned to Earth, the capability to receive and curate dust in an MSR Sample Receiving Facility (SRF) is essential. SUMMARY STATEMENT: The fact that any sample tubes cached on the martian surface would accumulate some quantity of martian airfall dust presents a low-cost scientifically valuable opportunity. Some of this dust would inadvertently be knocked off as part of tube manipulation operations, but any dust possible should be loaded into the OS along with the sample tubes. This dust should be captured in an SRF and made available for detailed scientific analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S176-S185
Issue numberS1
StatePublished - Jun 1 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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