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    The Japanese space agency scientists said on Thursday they aim to obtain and return soil samples from the Mars region. They want to be ahead of both the United States and China, which started their Mars missions last year. The hope is to find any clues that may lead to the planet’s origin and traces of possible life.

    JAXA short for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is scheduled to launch an explorer in 2024 to land on Phobos, a Martian moon. It will then collect 10 grams of soil and bring it to Earth around 2029. This rapid return trip nudges Japan ahead of the United States and China even though they started earlier, according to project manager Yasuhiro Kawakatsu.

    NASA’s rover, Perseverance, landed in a Mars crater where it collected 31 samples that will be returned to Earth. The European Space Agency is assisting with Perseverance to get the samples back by 2031. China became the second country to land and operate a spacecraft on Mars back in May. They plan to bring back their samples by 2030.

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