NASA Needs Help for Its Mars Rock Retrieval Plans

NASA is looking for community scientists to help come up with a plan to retrieve rock samples from Mars.

NASA's Perseverance mission has now been active on Mars for the better part of three years, and the space agency is gearing up to retrieve some of the examples the rover's been collecting over the past few years. Monday, NASA chief Bill Nelson unveiled the organization's plans to send equipment to the Martian surface in order to retrieve the samples Perseverance is collecting.

"Mars Sample Return will be one of the most complex missions NASA has ever undertaken. The bottom line is, an $11 billion budget is too expensive, and a 2040 return date is too far away," Nelson said at a media event Monday. "Safely landing and collecting the samples, launching a rocket with the samples off another planet – which has never been done before – and safely transporting the samples more than 33 million miles back to Earth is no small task. We need to look outside the box to find a way ahead that is both affordable and returns samples in a reasonable timeframe." 

Because the estimated budget NASA anticipates for the retrieval mission is far too high for the space agency's books, it's looking for scientists in the community who might have some ideas as to how to make the mission far less complicated and easier on the budget.

"NASA does visionary science – and returning diverse, scientifically-relevant samples from Mars is a key priority," added Nicky Fox, associate administrator, Science Mission Directorate, at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "To organize a mission at this level of complexity, we employ decades of lessons on how to run a large mission, including incorporating the input we get from conducting independent reviews. Our next steps will position us to bring this transformational mission forward and deliver revolutionary science from Mars -- providing critical new insights into the origins and evolution of Mars, our solar system, and life on Earth."

When Perseverance was first launched, NASA officials hoped to see its rock samples return to Earth sometime in 2030, though that timeline no longer looks realistic.

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