Japan is ready to mine Mars’ largest moon after successfully completing all of the compulsory “space contamination” paperwork.
Japanese space agency JAXA hopes to travel to the Mars moon, drill into it and then bring a piece of it back to Earth for investigation.
Mars actually has two small moons called Phobos and Deimos and their names mean fear and panic in Latin.
Phobos and Deimos are a lot smaller than our moon and are irregular shapes.
JAXA has its sights set on boring a hole into Phobos and has scheduled this to happen by 2024.
It has dubbed the mission MMX and it will involve a spacecraft with a robotic arm that will do the digging.
However, Earth laws state that humans exploring the solar system must abide by certain rules in order to protect space from human contamination.
JAXA had to apply to the world’s Committee on Space Research’s Planetary Protection Panel (CSRPPP), which recently granted permission.
A team of international scientists make up the panel and are tasked with enforcing the United Nations’ Outer Space Treaty of 1967.
This treaty says that “states shall avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies,” meaning you can’t just go into space and start taking bits and pieces apart, largely because leaving Earth germs behind could mess up future investigations for life.
Permission was granted to Japan because there is little evidence that the Phobos moon contains any life so contamination is not likely to be an issue.
There is still a tiny chance that Phobos and Deimos could contain martian microbes but it is highly improbable.
JAXA will also be checking if Phobos contains any water and Nasa are currently developing a probe instrument to make this possible.
Understanding where the Mars moons came from and what they’re made of could unlock mysteries surrounding the formation of habitable planets.
A JAXA spokesperson concluded: “Knowing the origin of the evolution of planets that lead to life is an important scientific goal.
“We believe that the returned samples will definitely provide clues about their origins and offer an opportunity to directly explore the moon’s building blocks or primitive crust or mantle components of Mars.”