Faster, more cost-effective method sought for bringing Mars samples back to Earth

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson revealed that the agency is seeking proposals for the takeover of the Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission, an ambitious project that has faced budget overruns and delays. The initial billion budget and the 2040 return date were deemed too costly and far off track.

The MSR mission aims to retrieve ground samples collected by the Perseverance rover on Mars and bring them back to Earth. However, recent estimates suggest that the project could cost between billion to billion and be delayed by five to ten years. These figures have raised concerns given that earlier estimates projected costs of billion to billion and a return date in the 2030s.

To address these challenges, NASA is inviting proposals from various space agencies, including SpaceX, to present brief outlines of revised project plans by May 17. Once selected, the chosen project will undergo intensive studies to confirm feasibility within a 90-day period ending in September for final approval.

In a bid to streamline the project, NASA administrators are considering modifications such as reducing the size of the Mars Ascent Vehicle and potentially bringing back fewer than the originally planned 30 samples from Mars. These adjustments come amid recent budget cuts from Congress, totaling billion annually for 2024 and 2025 across NASA’s programs, with additional cuts affecting the science division.

Nelson highlighted the impact of these changes on other planetary science projects like Davinci, Dragonfly, and Veritas, allowing for reallocation of resources to support their progress. The new direction for the MSR mission reflects NASA’s commitment to overcoming challenges and ensuring the success of groundbreaking exploration initiatives.