As much as the sophisticated laboratories aboard probes like the Curiosity Rover and the upcoming Insight Mars Lander can tell us, having samples of Martian soil in terrestrial laboratories would open new worlds of exploration for scientists.

To that end, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) just revealed a bold plan to retrieve soil samples from the surface of the red planet and transport them back to Earth.

In a “statement of intent” released last week, the two agencies outlined their proposal, which would require multiple missions and some tricky maneuvering in orbit around Mars.

“There is no question that for a planetary scientist, the chance to bring pristine, carefully chosen samples of the Red Planet back to Earth for examination using the best facilities is a mouth-watering prospect,” said David Parker of the ESA.

“Reconstructing the history of Mars and answering questions of its past are only two areas of discovery that will be dramatically advanced by such a mission.”

The Mars 2020 rover, which has already begun assembly at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California, will land on Mars via a rocket-powered sky crane.

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