Jim Watzin, NASA’s Mars exploration program director, said NASA is now considering adding to the post-2020 orbiter “the sample rendezvous capture and return capability, which allows us to retrieve the sample from orbit and prepare it for the return trip home.” Credit: NASA
WASHINGTON — A Mars orbiter NASA plans to launch in the 2020s could carry the mechanisms needed to collect and store sealed Martian surface samples for a return trip to Earth, an agency official said here Oct. 5.
The technology is crucial for the long-term, multimission, sample-return campaign that is quietly driving NASA’s robotic Mars exploration program. It is nonetheless conspicuously absent from the agency’s well-publicized “Journey to Mars” public relations campaign and barely a blip in official budget documents drafted each year to justify construction of new Mars rovers and satellites.
The orbiter would be NASA’s next strategic mission — that is, a mission custom-ordered by the agency and not selected through a competition that includes proposed missions to other places — to the red planet after the Mars 2020 rover, which is scheduled to ...