NASA is underestimating the time and money it will take to bring Martian rocks back to Earth in the next decade, an independent body said on Tuesday.
The Examination Board suggested that given all the technological challenges, NASA and the European Space Agency consider postponing the next samples return starts from 2026 to 2028. These delays will add to the cost and raise the planning budget to $ 4 billion or more, $ 1 billion more than currently foreseen by NASA Panel noted.
After landing in February, NASA’s Perseverance rover will be looking for the best geological samples more than halfway to Mars. It targets the Jezero Crater, which is believed to be an ancient river delta that was once home to microscopic life.
Scientists want to analyze these samples in the best laboratories on earth to determine if there has ever been life in the planet’s lush, humid past. The aim is to get the samples back in the early 2030s.
To that end, the space agencies have teamed up to develop a lander to retrieve the samples, a rocket to remove them from the Martian surface, and an orbiting spaceship to pick them up and bring them back to Earth. All of this equipment requires two separate launches from Earth.
Review committee chairman David Thompson, retired executive director of Orbital ATK, told reporters a two-year delay is advisable for the best chance of success. At the same time, however, nobody is suggesting that NASA slow down, emphasized panel member Maria Zuber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
NASA science mission chief Thomas Zurbuchen said the space agency will re-evaluate mission dates and review all options. But right now, “it’s full speed ahead … we’re not taking a break in any way.”
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