Lunar and Planetary Institute
Lunar and Planetary Institute



International Group Plans Strategy for Mars Sample Return Mission

December 11, 2007
Source: NASA

An artist’s rendering of a sample return mission blasting off from Mars. NASA and an international team are developing plans and seeking recommendations to launch the first Mars mission to bring soil samples back to Earth. The ability to study soil from Mars here on Earth will contribute significantly to answering questions about the possibility of life on the Red Planet. Returned samples will also increase understanding of the useful or harmful properties of martian soil, which will support planning for the eventual human exploration of Mars.

The International Mars Architecture for Return of Samples (IMARS) task force recently met in Washington to lay the foundation for an international collaboration to return samples from Mars. NASA hosted the meeting, and participants included representatives from more than half a dozen countries and NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), the Canadian Space Agency, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

IMARS is a committee of the International Mars Exploration Working Group (IMEWG). The group was formed in 1993 to provide a forum for the international coordination of Mars exploration missions.

"The potential paradigm-changing science from Mars samples makes this mission a high priority of the National Academy of Sciences," said Doug McCuistion, NASA's Mars Exploration Program director, Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

"The exciting progress being made by the IMARS team is contributing directly to making this mission a reality in the next decade, All spacefaring nations have a standing invitation from IMEWG to participate in IMARS."

Scientists reviewed past engineering work on a Mars sample return mission, international science priorities, and sample receiving facility requirements. The IMARS team made significant progress in many of the key issues associated with the integration of science and engineering challenges. The team established a common strategy for launching a Mars sample return mission and achieving scientific objectives that can be met only by returning martian soil to Earth.

"For Europe this is a major step to shape the future of the ESA Aurora Exploration Programme in 2008," said Bruno Gardini, ESA's Exploration Program Manager. The Aurora Programme is part of Europe's strategy for space, initiated by ESA in 2001 to create and implement a long-term European plan for robotic and human exploration of the solar system.

The next steps in preparing for a Mars sample return mission include more detailed international trade studies on engineering and mission specifics, greater detail regarding science and sample requirements, and definition and requirements for Earth-based facilities. IMARS will address the technical issues in upcoming meetings, along with preliminary discussions of the possible roles of interested nations and agencies.

For more information about NASA's Mars Program, visit:

Mars: NASA Explores the Red Planet


Community News home page


Last updated January 30, 2008