June 10, 2012

House Support for Mars Sample Return is Welcome

The House of Representatives Appropriations Committee has given strong support for a Mars sample return in the 2013 NASA budget, and this is very welcome and important.
Mars Sample Return  (Older Single Mission Concept)

Everyone should urge their Representative and Senators to support this provision. Nobody can send humans to Mars without first bringing back for analysis samples of Martian soil, water and air for 'planetary protection' reasons; to gain some level of certainty on whether or not life exists, and if so, if it would be harmful to humans or to anything on earth when it would unavoidably come back with returning astronauts.

Should current and future rovers detect something which looks like life through their limited testing capabilities, they could not tell us if it were harmful or not to earth life. Therefore, without the sample return, Mars will forever remain 10-20 years in humanity's future.

A sample return mission has been the top priority robotic space mission for years, and NASA's rejection of earlier promised cooperation with the 2016 and 2018 European ExoMars and Max-C missions (which are individual parts of such a goal) sent shock waves throughout the scientific community, and left the Europeans feeling betrayed.

Mars Sample Return Concept
Credit NASA
Hopefully this budget provision, if enacted, will help push NASA back on track for collecting and later returning samples. It may also have the effect of helping to clarify the actual intentions of this administration towards ever actually going to Mars. If the administration is in support of Mars in our lifetime, they will restore support for the ESA missions (geared to collecting samples only) and begin developing the actual sample return system. If they stall, refuse and make excuses, then their professed interest in human missions to Mars might be viewed as empty rhetoric.

Budget summary (text doesn't mention this provision, plus link to full budget)

Additional information on ExoMars:
Contact the White House:

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