Mars Sample Return: Here’s the Scoop

It’s like bringing home the bacon, Martian style. For decades, high on NASA’s wish list has been rocketing back to Earth clumps of Mars soil and rock via robot spacecraft. One big problem: any NASA U-Haul plan for Mars sample return is expensive. More than a decade ago, space agency engineers blueprinted such a Red Planet project. That scheme went nowhere fast after its price tag of some $5 billion produced sticker shock. More recently, experts at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, scripted a $1.5 billion international undertaking for 2003 and 2005. It involved France and Italy, special rovers, landers and a Mars orbiter that lobs back to Earth two beer-can-sized containers of Martian turf.