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Japan Plans Rock-Collecting Trip to Martian Moon Phobos or Deimos

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency has announced preliminary plans to bring some samples back from one of Mars' moons, Phobos or Deimos, the Nikkei news agency reports. The moons, named after the Greek gods of fear and terror, have been observed by Mars orbiters but never landed on. The JAXA plan would be the first to do so, though which moon gets the honor is yet to be determined.

Whichever is chosen, the lander would be collecting dust and rock samples that could help determine the origin of these small, irregularly shaped moons. That in turn could shed light on the early life of the solar system.

Image: Phobos
NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured this view of the Martian moon Phobos in 2008. NASA / JPL-Caltech / Univ. of Arizona

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The spacecraft will take advantage of technology tested by the Hayabusa probe, which proved itself by visiting a passing asteroid and bringing samples back to Earth in 2010.

Funding and mission details are yet to be worked out, but the proposal reportedly was well-received by the government panel that reviewed it, and could begin actual development as soon as next April if the money comes through. If all goes well, the craft could launch as soon as 2022.

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