NASA’s About to Make a Big Announcement About Mars. Here’s What We Know. : ScienceAlert

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We’re about to find out what’s happening with NASA’s beleaguered Mars Sample Return mission. In just a few hours – at 1PM EDT – NASA is going to host a media teleconference that sets out its recommendations for moving forward.

The mission has been ongoing for several years, with the deployment of the Perseverance rover in February 2021. Part of Perseverance’s mission is to gather interesting samples of Martian rock to be collected by another mission and returned to Earth.

Last year, the future of the Mars sample return mission became shaky after an independent review determined that the program had “unrealistic budget and schedule expectations”, an “unwieldy structure” and was “not arranged to be led effectively”.

The House and Senate appropriations committees subsequently recommended a budget that included a cut of $454,080,000 to NASA’s 2024 budget, specifically from the Mars Sample Return mission. NASA has also reduced spending on the mission, and laid off a large number of workers and contractors from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is leading the mission.

This has led to some alarm that the mission may be axed, and the canisters filled by Perseverance left useless on the surface of Mars. NASA’s upcoming announcement offers a glimmer of hope yet – maybe.

“Mars Sample Return has been a major long-term goal of international planetary exploration for the past two decades,” the agency writes.

“NASA’s Perseverance rover is collecting compelling science samples that will help scientists understand the geological history of Mars, the evolution of its climate, and prepare for future human explorers. The return of the samples will also help NASA’s search for signs of ancient life.”

The current plan has an orbiter launching in 2027, a lander launching in 2028, and pristine Mars samples coming to Earth in 2033. Fingers crossed the new recommendations offer a way to meet those timelines.

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