In addition to transporting the first sample collected from Mars to Earth, NASA is planning a highly complex mission that would include the first launch from the surface of another planet as well as the first orbital encounter on another planet. Mars Sample Return is a partnership with ESA (European Space Agency).
“NASA has plans for a robust Moon-Mars exploration approach” said Nicola Fox, associate administrator for science at NASA. “Mars is a rich destination for scientific discovery and understanding that the Red Planet supports the agency’s Artemis program to ultimately send humans to Mars.”
An Independent Review Board (IRB) has examined NASA’s current plans and goals for the first Mars sample return mission, and the agency is assembling a team to respond. The board submitted its report to NASA earlier this month, highlighting the scientific importance of the mission, but expressed concerns about the mission’s budget, among other things. After a two-month evaluation, they submitted a report to the agency with 20 findings and 59 recommendations.
“Mars Sample Return is a very complex program and campaign with multiple parallel developments, interfaces and complexities,” said Orlando Figueroa, Chair of the Independent Review Committee. “The development of this historic effort is the result of decades of strategic investments.”
NASA established the Independent Review Board in May 2023 to evaluate technical, cost and schedule plans prior to confirming the mission design. The Board interviewed a variety of NASA and outside experts to understand the program’s scope and management, technical approach, timeline, and funding profile.
In response to the report, NASA assembled a team led by Sandra Connelly, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for science, to review the Mars sample return report. The team will make a recommendation by the second quarter of fiscal 2024 regarding the further procedure for the return of Mars samples as part of a balanced overall scientific program. The Agency will postpone its plans to confirm the mission’s official cost and schedule until this review is completed.
“Independent review panels like the one we commissioned for Mars Sample Return help verify that we are on track to achieve our mission goals within the appropriate budget,” Connelly said. “We thank the board for their work and now our job is to evaluate the report and see if there are any elements of the program that need to be changed.”
NASA’s planned Mars sample return campaign would fulfill one of the top solar system exploration goals set by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine over the past three decades. Sample return will revolutionize understanding of Mars by bringing scientifically selected samples to Earth for examination using the world’s most advanced instruments.