International Group Studies Mars Sample Return Mission

Article written: 3 Jul , 2008
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015

Until humans can actually set foot on the Red Planet, the next best thing would be a sample return mission, to bring Martian soil samples back to Earth. A sample return would exponentially increase our knowledge and understanding Mars and its environment. And in order to pull off a mission of this magnitude, international cooperation might be required, and in fact, may be preferred. The International Mars Exploration Working Group (IMEWG), organized an international committee to study an international architecture for a Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission concept. After several months of collective work by scientists and engineers from several countries worldwide, the “iMARS” group is ready to publish the outcome of its deliberations and the envisioned common architecture for a future international MSR mission, and they will discuss their findings at an international conference on July 9 and 10 in France.

The conference will be held at the Auditorium of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris, and will bring together members of the scientific and industrial communities as well as representatives of space agencies around the world to discuss the status and prospects for Mars exploration over the coming decades. Attendees will have the opportunity to hear the current international thinking on Mars Sample Return and to interact with key players in the global endeavor of exploring and understanding Mars.

A Mars Sample Return mission would use robotic systems and a Mars ascent rocket to collect and send samples of Martian rocks, soils, and atmosphere to Earth for detailed chemical and physical analysis. Researchers on Earth could measure chemical and physical characteristics much more precisely than they could by via remote control. On Earth, they would have the flexibility to make changes as needed for intricate sample preparation, instrumentation, and analysis if they encountered unexpected results. In addition, for decades to come, the collected Mars rocks could yield new discoveries as future generations of researchers apply new technologies in studying them.

Keynote speakers at the upcoming conferencewill are Steve Squyres of Cornell University, principal investigator under the MER mission, and Jean-Pierre Bibring of the Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale, principal investigator for a key instrument on Mars Express.

Interested in attending? Check out their website

Original News Source: ESA

13 Responses

  1. TD says

    I’d vote for a dozen 1/2 billion dollar rovers to study the heck out of life on Mars before I’d vote for a sample return to Earth…which, according to estimates I’ve read, would (surprisingly) cost more than that 6 billion for those 12 rovers.

    Of course, I, and most of the other 6 billion inhabitants of this beautiful planet, don’t get a vote! The way I see it is, if there’s no life, we’re just returning rocks – it’s not that big a deal. …let the astrogeologists pay for it…If there is life, we’d better understand it before we bring it back to our only home. (Or, maybe you can take it to the ISS.)

  2. Brian Smith says

    This idea is crazy. There is know telling what could possible be brought back.Biological this to me ls
    a nightmare waiting to become reality. Earths rich oxygen levels could possible spring forth dormant life that has been on the surface of Mars with no oxygen the key element of our life not too mention water.Dust can’t be controlled to an 100% level no matter the precautions took. We have only one Earth lets keep it that way this could be a complete disaster to man kind, If a predator occurred what if we do not have one to kill it back what if a disease was to brake out no control something that can not be controlled SOMEONE CALL THE UN THIS COULD BE A GLOBAL THREAT.

  3. Chuck Lam says

    Returning a Mars sample to earth or the ISS (as suggested above) for study makes more economic and practical sense than attempting to send a science team to Mars to do essentially the same thing. Just a reminder to all that it will require a consortium of governments to fund the billions required for a “Mars sample return” project. Sending a science team to Mars for a short stay may not occur for several centuries. It is doubtful there will ever be a sensible return on investment.

  4. Maugrim says


    I can’t tell if you’re serious or not, but thanks for the giggle. 🙂

  5. s0l says

    I’d rather have samples back on earth than faulty robots on the surface of mars.
    Phoenix is a joke, we’ve known for a long time there’s ice on mars, viking was 30 years ago, nothing new under the sun…Just billions wasted for a machine that was poorly designed and that has no organics dectection instrument.

    Bring samples back, spread them out to EU, US and Russian institutes for analysis and leave NASA out of it, at least for the PR part. The feeling i i get is that tere’s clearly feet-dragging going on concerning the US exploration of mars…30 years, so little progress…This only feeds rumors and conspiration…


    very interesting sites even though it sometimes make bold claims ; nonetheless beautifull detailed mars pictures from esa & nasa.

  6. s0l says

    By the way, does anyone know if Nasa or somebody else gave an explanation about the Golf Ball Dome crater on



  7. Richad Kirk says

    Why do we assume there will be a Mars ascent rocket? The samples, if properly packed, ought to be able to survive gun-like accelerations. If you can pack all the acceleration into the launch, then you don’t have to use fuel to lift other fuel, rocket bits or anything. Mars has less mass and less atmosphere, so it should be possible to launch rifle-bullet sized samples with a fairly modest gun or other accelerator.

    Is someone out there humming Jeff Wayne? It’s not funny, you know…

  8. TD says

    Thinking more about this, and reading the other posts, I think returning a sample to the earth should be considered a crime against humanity. I still think sending it directly to the ISS is reasonable, but the scientists there have to be prepared to stay a long time, and possibly make the ultimale sacrifice if there is any sort of breach. Assuming Martian life was found, there would have to be a series of experiments to see if the life might enter the Earth’s ecosystem…even if it was not directly harmful to any specific organism here, if it thrived in our world, it could still cause massive ecological or environmental damage. I speculated about the use of the ISS for this purpose in “Imminent Discovery” – the more I think about it, it does seem like the iSS was destined for that purpose.

    Really, though, discover life with rovers first before even a a sample return to ISS is allowed….but put in a little more funding to get a robust rover program. Some number like 12 biological detection rovers would make me feel confident of success, and land them in various regions, including where Sinton observed spectroscopic evidence of organic compounds, Dollfus observed seasonal shape and size change of small opaqe particles from polarization, and everyone observed seasonal color or shade change …and this would still be a tiny cost compared to sending and returning people.

    Good Luck (ailing) Phoenix!

  9. James says

    I’m still voting for the one-man-one-way mission to Mars. That’s the best way to explore the red planet.
    And for those who are against sacrificing a human for discovery, get over it. Tons of people would happily volunteer (like myself). People go their whole lives without doing anything meaningful…I’d rather die and provide us with an exorbitant amount of information than live a full life and do nothing that’s really all that beneficial. I can’t think of a better way to go out, personally! Plus I’d be the first fossil on Mars.

  10. Chuck Lam says

    To: James, No doubt a one-man-one-way expedition to the surface of Mars would be scientifically productive. However, to maximize the effort, a multi-discipline scientist would be required for a one-way Mars study. There might be a few moral issues to deal with; not to mention the herrendous cost for a venture of this magnitude.

  11. James says

    Yeah Chuck, there was an article about the pros and cons of it a few weeks back. I wish we’d go down that route rather than this one.
    But oh well, I’m just glad to be able to read about what we find for now. Maybe one day I’ll be more involved in the decision-making.

  12. Chuck Lam says

    To: James, Putting a science team on Mars will require a consortium of G8 governments to finance an expedition of this magnitude . The how, when and why should be the purview of academia. My visceral feel is a manned Mars trip will not happen in this or the next century, if ever. I don’t believe the future problems will be technical as much as financial

  13. I hate to break it to those who consider a sample return from Mars a “crime”, but we already *have* samples from Mars in the form of the SNC meteorites. Thus, any biological “barrier” has already been breached. Further sample returns could prove useful, but we still can do a lot remotely without having to get a sample home just yet.

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