Mars Sample Return mission went awry due to lack of funds

NASA’s ambitious mission to return samples of Martian soil seems to have gone awry. The Space Agency reported that the Mars Sample Return mission to deliver samples from Mars is suspended. Such a complex decision was made in connection with the solution of budget problems. The current plan was deemed unrealistic, so the aerospace administration is working to find alternatives.

The concept of the Mars Sample Return mission. Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Thus, the mission is officially put on pause. According to Space Policy Online, NASA announced its suspension due to rising costs and delays in its implementation. Last week, three American space centres participating in the mission were advised to begin “curtailing” activities related to it.

Illustration of the meeting of the Mars Sample Return mission vehicle and the Perseverance rover to transfer samples. Source: NASA

Initially, when preparing the budget for 2024, the Mars Sample Return mission was estimated at USD 949.3 million. However, the subcommittee responsible for overseeing the space agency’s budget allocated only USD 300 million and ordered annual funding profiles to be submitted. If NASA cannot meet these requirements, the mission to deliver Martian soil may face not a temporary pause, but something more serious.

Uncertain future

This news sounds especially disappointing, given that China has recently shared plans to complete its own mission to deliver samples from Mars called Tianwen-3, which will begin two years earlier. 

It is unclear how long this pause may last. Although NASA claimed that it was working on alternative ways to deliver samples collected by the Perseverance rover to Earth.

A prototype helicopter based on the Ingenuity drone for collecting samples of Martian soil as part of the Mars Sample Return mission. Image: NASA

Recently, NASA presented some of the samples brought from the asteroid Bennu by the OSIRIS-REx mission. And although we have not received their full analysis yet, this adds interest to the prospect of studying material from other planets and space objects.

Unfortunately, the dream of implementing the Mars Sample Return project may come to naught if NASA cannot find a more affordable solution.

Earlier we reported on how Perseverance unloaded the first sample of Martian soil to return to Earth.

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