Facing financial pressure, Nasa calls for innovative proposals to bring Mars rocks back sooner, cheaper


New Delhi: In response to budget cuts and rising costs, NASA is reevaluating its ambitious Mars mission sample return mission, aiming to develop more feasible and cost-effective approaches. The US space agency announced on Monday that it will issue a formal request for proposals to simplify the existing project, which has been challenged by technical difficulties and financial overruns.
“The bottom line is that $11 billion is too expensive, and the 2040 return date is too far away,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said during a press conference, highlighting the urgent need for innovation. He stressed the importance of finding economical and timely solutions to bring back the collected rock samples Perseverance Rover on Mars.
The rover, which landed at Mars' Jezero Crater in 2021, has already collected 24 core samples. These samples are important for the search for signs of ancient life on Mars. The original plan, in partnership with the European Space Agency, included sending a secondary robotic lander to launch into Mars orbit to retrieve these samples and transfer them back to Earth. However, an independent review last September criticized the mission for “unrealistic budget and schedule expectations”.
Facing a reduced budget, which has prompted significant layoffs at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which oversees the mission, Nelson is now seeking new ideas from NASA centers and the aerospace industry. The goal is to ensure that some of the more than 30 expected samples are returned to Earth by the early 2030s on a budget of more than $7 billion.
“We've never launched from another planet, and that's really what makes sampling Mars such a challenging and interesting mission,” Associate Administrator Nikki Fox said, outlining the technical challenge. He avoided speculating on how many samples might ultimately be returned under the revised plan.
The initiative comes as NASA seeks to balance its budget while maintaining its scientific objectives, which include missions to Venus and the exploration of Saturn's moon, Titan. The revised Mars sample return strategy is expected to be more widely distributed across the agency to foster a broader range of innovative solutions.
As NASA works to redefine its approach, international competition is increasing, with China moving toward its own Mars sample return mission by 2030, which could potentially achieve such a feat. Has become the first country.
(with inputs from agencies)

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