NASA To Make Announcement Today About Project Searching For Life On Mars

NASA To Make Announcement Today About Project Searching For Life On Mars


NASA is set to make an announcement today on the future of the Mars Sample Return (MSR) project, which aims, as the name very much suggests, to return samples of rocks and soil to Earth.

Rovers placed on the Red Planet have been tasked with collecting samples of it. During their time on an alien world, they have found plenty of interesting rocks and soil worthy of further human attention. Earlier this year, for example, Perseverance collected samples of a rock which may be ideal for finding signs of ancient microbial life.

“To put it simply, this is the kind of rock we had hoped to find when we decided to investigate Jezero Crater,” Ken Farley, project scientist for Perseverance at Caltech, explained in a statement. “Nearly all the minerals in the rock we just sampled were made in water; on Earth, water-deposited minerals are often good at trapping and preserving ancient organic material and biosignatures. The rock can even tell us about Mars’s climate conditions that were present when it was formed.”

Early analysis points to the rock being part of an ancient lake. 

But as much as we can learn from Perseverance’s onboard instruments, sample 24 and others like it need to be returned to Earth to learn more about Mars’s ancient climate and geology and to search for signs of ancient life. 

Returning these samples is no simple task. Though humans have successfully landed robots and probes on Mars (and even the occasional helicopter), we have never lifted off from the surface of another planet before. As well as performing this feat for the first time, the Mars Sample Return mission would then see the sample rendezvous with a spacecraft that will bring the samples to Earth.

If you’re thinking “This sounds expensive” you’d be in line with the views of the Independent Review Board (IRB) report presented to NASA in September 2023. According to the report, the project was “established with unrealistic budget and schedule expectations from the beginning”. While noting the scientific importance of the mission, the review board said “technical issues, risks, and performance-to-date indicate a near zero probability” of various aspects of the mission being ready for launch by the current 2028 timeline.

“Independent review boards like the one we commissioned for Mars Sample Return help review whether we’re on the right track to meet our mission goals within the appropriate budget,” Sandra Connelly, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for science, said in a statement following the report’s release. “We thank the board for its work, and now our job is to assess the report and address if there are elements of the program that need to change.”

NASA has been working on an official response to the report, to be revealed today at 1 pm EDT, with NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and Nicky Fox, associate administrator, Science Mission Directorate set to speak at the update. NASA has not issued much more information on what that response will be, but, as is the way of big space projects, brace yourself for possible delays to the project, or changes in timelines to take place.


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