NASA has requested funding for a Mars sample return mission, that could be ready to launch by 2026. The space agency has made a $2.6 million budget request for the fiscal year 2020 and a portion of these funds would be allocated to funding the mission.
NASA has stated that the mission would involve a robotic spaceflight to retrieve rock samples that would have been gathered by the 2020 Mars rover. The rock and dust samples would be collected and brought back to Earth to be studied.
The ‘Moon to Mars’ budget proposal outlines the necessary elements required in order to make human space exploration a reality. The budget proposes spending $109 million of the $2.6 billion on “future Mars activities”, with the majority of this amount going to the initial stages of development for the Mars sample return mission. Another portion will be allocated to completely fund the Mars 2020 mission, which is scheduled to land on Mars on February 18, 2021. The Mars missions have been scheduled for when the red planet is closest to the Earth, which if they were to miss the timeframe, could add up to two years travel time to their journey.
Louis Friedman, Executive Director of The Planetary Society explains why Mars sample return missions are vital. “A Mars sample-return mission is often described by the planetary science community as one of the most important robotic space missions, due to its high expected scientific return on investment and its ability to prove the technology needed for a human mission to mars.”
The 2020 budget proposal still needs to be approved by U.S. Congress before proceeding. The renewed vigour for moon exploration is a result of Space Policy Directive 1, an order signed by President Donald Trump in December 2018 directing NASA to return astronauts to the moon in a sustainable way. NASA Administrator, Jim Bridenstine has said, “The moon is the proving ground; Mars is the horizon goal.”