The Planetary Society is greatly encouraged by today’s statements by Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, regarding NASA’s plans for a Mars sample return mission in the 2020s. The Society had previously urged NASA to define its robotic exploration plans after the Mars 2020 rover mission, and this represents an important step forward for the program.
“The robotic Mars Exploration Program is one of the most accomplished and most important endeavors currently being pursued at NASA,” said Casey Dreier, Director of Space Policy for The Planetary Society. “Sample return could help answer some of the biggest questions we have, including whether life existed in the past or if it is there now. If NASA believes that its existing telecommunications capability can support Mars sample return in the mid-2020s, then prioritizing the community’s top scientific recommendation is the right move and must be pursued immediately to ensure mission success.”
Earlier this year, The Society released a white paper, “Mars in Retrograde: A Pathway for Restoring NASA’s Mars Exploration Program,” that made several recommendations for NASA, including that the space agency prepare a new long-term strategy document for Mars exploration, address critical telecommunications infrastructure at the Red Planet, and immediately pursue development of a Mars Ascent Vehicle and other enabling technologies in service of Mars sample return. The Society is very pleased to see NASA making progress toward these recommendations.
Dr. G. Scott Hubbard, who serves on The Planetary Society’s Board of Directors and previously served as NASA’s first Mars Exploration Program Director, added:
“Mars Sample Return was identified as the highest strategic priority in the Decadal Survey for good reason. Such a mission has the greatest likelihood of finding the fingerprints of life as we seek to know if we are alone in the Universe. The new lean architecture for sample return that spreads the cost and risk by bringing partners to the table is a major step forward.”
The Planetary Society looks forward to additional details about NASA’s plans for Mars sample return. So far this year, legislation in the Senate and House would add more than sixty million dollars in funding for a future Mars mission to NASA’s fiscal year 2018 budget. This funding will be critical in enabling a successful, on-budget mission in the 2020s. Additionally, tens of thousands of messages of support for the Mars program have been sent to Congress and the White House by Society members this year. Millions of people around the world will eagerly anticipate additional details from NASA in the coming months. The scientific exploration of Mars now has clear direction, and The Planetary Society and its members look forward to this grand endeavor.
About The Planetary Society
The Planetary Society has inspired millions of people to explore other worlds and seek other life. With the mission to empower the world's citizens to advance space science and exploration, its international membership makes the non-governmental Planetary Society the largest space interest group in the world. Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray and Louis Friedman founded The Planetary Society in 1980. Bill Nye, a longtime member of The Planetary Society's Board, serves as CEO.