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NASA is working on alternatives for the Mars Sample Return

Published Oct 29th, 2023 10:34AM EDT
A concept of the Mars sample retriever that could bring alien germs to Earth
Image: NASA

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The Mars Sample Return mission is going to be exorbitantly expensive. So expensive, in fact, that a report released in late September has NASA looking for alternative ways to pull the iconic mission off. 

That new report essentially deemed the entire mission unrealistic based on the current budget and schedule. Now, the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group, which comprises five subcommittees, is looking for a way to pull the mission off in a way that isn’t quite as unrealistic.

As a refresher, the current schedule and budgeting for NASA’s Mars Sample Return mission currently says the project will cost between $8 billion and $11 billion throughout its entire lifecycle. Further, NASA hoped to launch the mission in 2028, with the samples returning to Earth in the mid-2030s.

Mars in colorImage source: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin/G. Michael,

While that might not sound that bad, the space agency has been struggling to keep the budget where it needs to be to keep things moving smoothly. The mission received $822.3 million in a 2023 spending bill, while NASA had requested $949.3 million. Further, the agency says it needs an additional $250 million this fiscal year and in 2024 to keep the mission on schedule.

That’s an insane amount of money to dish out, but the mission will require multiple spacecraft and robots to pull off its objectives. It’s a complex mission, and while it isn’t unusual for it to cost so much, NASA needs to find an alternative way to move the Mars Sample Return mission forward.

The agency says it is looking at ways to harvest as much of the work as it has already done while also reducing the cost of the project entirety. It also wants to try to increase the resilience of the mission. It’s unclear what an alternative to the Mars Sample Return might look like at the moment.

The Mars Sample Return mission is an important scientific mission that could finally teach us more about the Red Planet, as it would put samples from that world into the hands of human scientists here on Earth. Unfortunately, pulling that mission off is going to be one heck of a gamble, but NASA is doing everything it can to make it happen.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.

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