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NASA makes major announcement about Mars sample-return mission

By T.K. Randall
April 16, 2024 · Comment icon 19 comments

Getting samples from Mars to Earth is very expensive. Image Credit: NASA / JPL
Major change is afoot regarding NASA's plans to return samples of Martian soil and rock to the Earth.
The ambitious mission, which has been in the works for years, was to have involved a multi-stage process beginning with the Perseverance rover which has been collecting promising samples for future pickup and analysis.

A second mission, due to launch before the decade is out, was to then see a spacecraft land on the surface, pick up the samples, then return to orbit where it would rendezvous with a third spacecraft.

The final step would have seen this spacecraft leave Mars and return the samples to Earth.

There is one snag, however - it doesn't look as though this plan is actually going to work.

Yesterday, NASA revealed that its current budget would make such a series of missions impossible to achieve before 2040, prompting the space agency to look for a different solution to the problem.
"The bottom line is that $11bn is too expensive, and not returning samples until 2040 is unacceptably too long," said NASA administrator Bill Nelson.

As things stand, the sample caches have been collected by the rover, but finding a way to actually pick them up and return them to the Earth is going to need some out-of-the-box thinking.

As such, NASA is now calling on scientists and industry professionals for help coming up with a new, more budget-friendly solution to collect and return the samples.

"We are looking at out-of-the-box possibilities that could return the samples earlier and at a lower cost," said Dr Nicola Fox, director of NASA's science directorate.

"This is definitely a very ambitious goal, and we're going to need to go after some very innovative new possibilities for design, and certainly leave no stone unturned."

With any luck, an affordable solution will be found in the not-too-distant future.

Source: BBC News | Comments (19)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #10 Posted by qxcontinuum 1 month ago
I don't get it , have they not sent a mini lab rover to analyze samples right there on the planet? I can't recall but I think there was a such program. 
Comment icon #11 Posted by iAlrakis 1 month ago
It bothers me that NASA also announced this "Nasa chief warns China is masking military presence in space with civilian programs". My first thought was they are trying to transfer 'Mars money' towards other projects.
Comment icon #12 Posted by qxcontinuum 1 month ago
They've always done it. Nasa' equipment always cost billions more than justifiable common sense . 
Comment icon #13 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 1 month ago
They have. But the amount of analysis you can do in a car sized rover is extremely limited compared to the amount of analysis you can do in a laboratory? Have you ever actually seen a laboratory? They are big room sized things full of massive instruments.
Comment icon #14 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 1 month ago
What 'Mars money'? The whole point is that the costs of this mission have spiralled beyond what NASA can afford.
Comment icon #15 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 1 month ago
You base that comment on what exactly? Would you care to give us some specific examples of how much NASA equipment costs compared to how much it should cost... based on actual evidence of course, NOT simply your idea of common sense?
Comment icon #16 Posted by iAlrakis 30 days ago
My point was that they might have been ok with the cost but now want more budget to keep ahead of China in the classical space race.
Comment icon #17 Posted by Tom1200 30 days ago
Mars has three main currencies but the most stable one is the ♧ / Martian Aargl.  It's similar to the Venusian Aargl but that's only backed by fried potatoes. At time of publication one ♧ = 21.96 Bryrjts and weighs 7.332 kg + 0.077 kg/K.  Because of Mars's weaker gravity even puny humans can walk around with up to to 12 ♧.  So long as they remember not to fiddle with small change, as the 7.28i Bryrijts coin has razor-sharp edges often dipped in anthrax. Source Wikipedia.  Have a great weekend!
Comment icon #18 Posted by Poncho_Peanatus 2 days ago
just ask Elon Musk to send a dragoon with astronauts in Mars orbit to retrieve the samples. He will be more than happy to help.
Comment icon #19 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 2 days ago
When it comes to space, Elon Musk doesn't, "help". SpaceX provide a service for money. As for Dragon, it was supposed to have a Mars capable version, Red Dragon, but SpaceX abandoned that, It would need to wait for a Mars capable version of Starship, and that's still a few years away.

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