Mars Sample Return
NASA released its fiscal year 2022 budget request May 28, asking for $24.8 billion to support a number of new and existing science and exploration programs but also proposing once again to cancel an airborne astronomical observatory.
With NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover set to begin its multiyear mission to collect rocks and soil for future retrieval, planetary scientists are concerned other Mars research goals could suffer during the decade-long wait for those samples to complete their three-legged relay back to Earth.
On the eve of the landing of the rover Perseverance on Mars, scientists are looking ahead to the work it will do searching for evidence of past life on the planet and collecting samples for return to Earth.
NASA is moving ahead with work on a pair of Mars sample return missions, although some in the planetary science community worry how the cost of that effort will affect other projects.
An independent review panel created by NASA to examine its plans to return samples from Mars endorsed the overall campaign, but recommended that the agency delay two upcoming missions to provide a more realistic development schedule.
The European Space Agency has awarded contracts for work on elements of its moon and Mars exploration program, ranging from modules for the lunar Gateway to a mission to return Mars samples to Earth.
NASA will carry out an independent review of its overall efforts to return samples from Mars, seeking to find any potential issues with the campaign while still in its earliest stages of development.
Cost overruns on a major rover mission and proposals for both sample return missions and a new orbiter are straining NASA’s Mars exploration program and threatening the future of two ongoing missions.
As NASA gears up a decade-long effort to return samples from Mars, some scientists are worried that the campaign may not leave any funding available for other robotic missions to the planet.
While neither NASA nor ESA has yet to give formal approval, or funding, for missions to return samples from Mars, both agencies are taking steps to refine plans for what those missions will be.