With budget cuts looming and no clear flagship mission on the horizon, the Mars program has been looking to rechart its course in the coming years. Sending a spacecraft to the Red Planet to return a sample of rock may be the way to go, according to a summary report unveiled Tuesday by the Mars Program Planning Group.
The Planetary Science Decadal Survey for 2013 to 2022, released last year by the National Research Council, put a Mars sample return mission as a top priority. Meanwhile, President Obama’s administration has pushed to focus future efforts on sending humans to Mars.
According to the report, led by former NASA “Mars Czar” Orlando Figueroa, a sample return mission done right could further both goals.
“Sample return represents the best opportunity to find synergies technologically between the programs,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, which is responsible for such planetary science missions. “Sending a mission to go to Mars and return a sample looks a lot like sending a crew to Mars and returning them safely. There’s a parallelism of ideas there.”