In the fall of 2019, the Mars 2020 rover team welcomed ten members to serve as Returned Sample Science Participating Scientists. Scheduled to launch in July 2020 as NASA’s next step in exploration of the Red Planet, the Mars 2020 mission will search for signs of past microbial life, characterizing the planet’s climate and geology, and will be the first planetary mission to collect and cache Martian rock core and dust samples. Subsequent missions, currently under consideration by NASA (in conjunction with the European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these cached samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.

NASA recently selected two of these Returned Sample Science Participating Scientists to join the Mars 2020 Project Science Group (PSG). As the leadership council that helps define and refine science goals and strategies of the Mars 2020 mission, the project science group coordinates the scientists involved with the Mars rover project. With the new position, Chris Herd from the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, and Tanja Bosak from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge will represent the interests of scientists destined to handle and study the first samples from Mars.

“Our Returned Sample Science Participating Scientists must anticipate the needs of future investigators who will analyze these first Mars samples for a very diverse range of studies in Earth-based laboratories,” said Mars 2020 Project Scientist Ken Farley, who is based at Caltech in Pasadena, California. “Chris and Tanja’s appointment to the Mars 2020 PSG highlights the importance we place on the role of these scientists and that of sample return. They are speaking for history’s first scientists to handle samples from another planet — many of whom at present are probably still in high school.”

Herd and Bosak and the eight other Returned Sample Science Participating Scientists have hit the ground running since joining the Mars 2020 science team in the fall of 2019, working on research projects and contributing to mission planning. Things will accelerate for the 2020 team as a whole after the rover launches from Cape Canaveral Florida this July. And things will really kick into high gear after the Mars 2020 rover touches down at Mars’ Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021.