Mars sample return requires considerable technical development, and this work cannot be postponed until a few years before launch. NASA is not currently on a path to Mars sample return, because the (admittedly daunting) technology issues have not yet been addressed. A key area that must be addressed concerns the development of the technology for entry, descent, and landing systems, both at Mars and for Earth return. Another important area is so-called go-to mobility—i.e., the ability to identify a rock and have a rover autonomously approach and collect a sample. Such a capability would provide for more efficient sampling. The MSL-designed coring device is a significant advance in sample-acquisition technology, but end-to-end sample acquisition to storage (and possibly packaging) capability must be developed. If samples are cached on the surface, as suggested above, a precision-landing capability will be needed. Retrieving cached samples, perhaps using a short-range rover with no analytical capabilities, could minimize mission complexity and cost. The development of a Mars ascent vehicle and associated mechanisms for spacecraft rendezvous, docking, and sample transfer are required if pre-collected samples are to be lofted into Mars orbit. In either case, a sample-containment mechanism that meets planetary protection requirements must be devised. Finally, Mars sample return will require that a sample-receiving facility on Earth be designed and constructed. Curated returned samples must be isolated from the terrestrial environment, not only for planetary protection, but also to preserve their scientific integrity for future studies.


1. M.P. Golombek, N.T. Bridges, H.J. Moore, S.L. Murchie, J.R. Murphy, T.J. Parker, R. Rieder, T.P. Rivellini, J.T. Schofield, A. Seiff, R.B. Singer, P.H. Smith, L.A. Soderblom, D.A. Spencer, C.R. Stoker, R. Sullivan, N. Thomas, S.W. Thurman, M.G. Tomasko, R.M. Vaughn, H. Wänke, A.W. Ward, and G.R. Wilson, “Overview of the Mars Pathfinder Mission: Launch through Landing, Surface Operations, Data Sets, and Science Results,” Journal of Geophysical Research 104(E4):8523-8554, 1999.

2. S.W. Squyres and A.H. Knoll “Sedimentary Rocks at Meridiani Planum: Origin, Diagenesis, and Implications for Life on Mars,” Earth and Planetary Science Letters 240:1-10, 2005.

3. J.A. Hurowitz, S.M. McLennan, N.J. Tosca, R.E. Arvidson, J.R. Michalski, D.W. Ming, C. Schröder, and S.W. Squyres, “In Situ and Experimental Evidence for Acidic Weathering of Rocks and Soils on Mars,” Journal of Geophysical Research 111:E02S19, doi:10.1029/2005JE002515, 2006.

4. J.W. Schopf, A.B. Kudryavtsev, D.G. Agresti, T.J. Wdowiak, and A.D. Czaja, “Laser Raman Imagery of Earth’s Earliest Fossils,” Nature 416:73, 2003.

5. J.M. Garcia-Ruiz, S.T. Hyde, A.M. Carnerup, A.G. Christy, M.J. Van Kranendonk, and N.J. Welham, “Self-Assembled Silica-Carbonate Structures and Detection of Ancient Microfossils,” Science 302:1194-1197, 2003.

6. M.D. Brasier, O.R. Green, A.P. Jephcoat, A.K. Kleppe, M.J. Van Kranendonk, J.F. Lindsay, A. Steele, and N.V. Grassineau, “Questioning the Evidence for Earth’s Oldest Fossils,” Nature 416:76-81, 2002.

7. A. Steele, M. Fries, H.E.F. Amundsen, B. Mysen, M. Fogel, M. Schweizer, and N. Boctor, “A Comprehensive Imaging and Raman Spectroscopy Study of ALH 84001 and a Terrestrial Analogue from Svalbard,” Lunar and Planetary Institute 37:2096, 2006.

8. H.Y. McSween Jr., “The Rocks of Mars, from Far and Near,” Meteoritics and Planetary Science 37:7-25, 2002.

9. See, for example, L. Borg and M.J. Drake, “A Review of Meteorite Evidence for the Timing of Magmatism and of Surface or Near-surface Liquid Water on Mars,” Journal of Geophysical Research 110:E12S03, doi:1029/2005JE002402, 2005.

10. See, for example, M.H. Carr, “Mars—A Water-Rich Planet?,” Icarus 68:186-216, 1986.

11. See, for example, S.C. Solomon, O. Aharonson, J.M. Aurnou, W.B. Banerdt, M.H. Carr, A.J. Dombard, H.V. Frey, M.P. Golombek, S.A. Hauck, II, J.W. Head III, B.M. Jakosky, C.L. Johnson, P.J. McGovern, G.A. Neumann, R.J. Phillips, D.E. Smith, and M.T. Zuber, “New Perspectives on Ancient Mars,” Science 307:1214-1220, 2005.

12. J.C. Bridges, D.C. Catling, J.M. Saxton, T.D. Swindle, I.C. Lyon, and M.M. Grady, “Alteration Assemblages in Martian Meteorites: Implications for Near-Surface Processes,” Space Science Review 96:365-392, 2001.

13. L.E. Borg and M.J. Drake, “A Review of Meteorite Evidence for the Timing of Magmatism and of Surface or Near-Surface Liquid Water on Mars,” Journal of Geophysical Research 110:doi:10.1029/2005JE002402, 2005.

14. See, for example, D.S. McKay, E.K. Gibson Jr., K.L. Thomas-Keprt, H. Vali, C.S. Romanek, S.J. Clemett, X.D.F. Chillier, C.R. Maechling, and R.N. Zare, “Search for Past Life on Mars: Possible Relic Biogenic Activity in Martian Meteorite ALH 84001,” Science 273:924-930, 1996.

15. L. Becker, L.B. Popp. T. Rust and J.L. Bada, “The Origin of Organic Matter in the Martian Meteorite ALH 84001,” Earth and Planetary Science Letters 167:71-79, 1999.

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