What we can learn from sample-return missions

In the 12 months surrounding the 39th annual Space Symposium, multiple sample-return missions either began or completed — and several more are planned throughout the decade. This panel, moderated by John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory scientist Nancy Chabot, discusses the process of samples retrieval and what these missions hold in store for Earth.

Part of the Space Science Track at Cheyenne Mountain Resort, this panel discussion includes Masaki Fujimoto, deputy director general of the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science of JAXA; Yang Liu, a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory; and Kathleen Vander Kaaden, the chief scientist for Astromaterials Curation within the Science Mission Directorate at NASA.

Scientists have captured samples from sample-return missions to the Moon, multiple asteroids, and comets. While the samples can be immediately helpful for understanding the composition of celestial bodies, they can also be critical for future research projects.

“One of the most amazing things about any of our astromaterials are that they are the gift that keeps on giving,” Vander Kaaden said. “We can study these samples for decades with instruments that didn’t even exist when we collected them.”