NASA partners with JAXA to collect sample from Martian moons

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- The Japanese have a history of doing sample return missions. And now, they have their sights set on something bigger.

"These moons are right on the edge where a lot of the action is happening," said David Lawrence, Principal Investigator of MEGANE.

The Mars Moons eXploration (MMX) mission is in development by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). They want to go to the Mars system, more specifically, they want to go to the Martian moons. And they've recruited NASA to do so.

"As they're moving forward and doing their missions, they want to interact with the international community more than they've done in the past, so they came to NASA and said 'will you help us?'" Lawrence explained.

NASA agreed, and teams at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and Marshall Space Flight Center are working together to build an instrument to survey both of Mars' moons, Phobos and Deimos, and collect a sample.

The point of the mission is to study and explore further possibilities on how the solar system was formed.

"It is a detective story, so that's what scientists do, we see little clues of evidence and we try to piece them all together to say what happened," Lawrence said.

The name of the instrument is MEGANE, which actually means 'eyeglasses' in Japanese.

"That's one of our attempts to be working with the Japanese, to use a word that tells a story," Lawrence said.

The mission is expected to launch in 2024 with the samples returning in 2029,  one step closer to solving the mysteries of the universe.