NASA is looking into a Mars sample return mission that would collect Martian rocks and transport them to Earth in the late 2020s, Space News reported Monday.
Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science, said at a meeting of a National Academies committee that the sample return effort would involve the launch of a Mars ascent vehicle in 2026 to retrieve samples gathered by the earlier Mars 2020 mission.
The ascent vehicle would deploy the sample into Mars orbit, then a separately-launched spacecraft would capture the sample for a return to Earth or cislunar space.
NASA could use existing spacecraft in Mars orbit as a communications relay for the mission, including the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN Mission and Europe’s Trace Gas Orbiter.
Zurbuchen urged the committee to study the scientific importance of a Mars sample return and its potential impact on the future of the Mars program.