Making a Mars sample return mission more affordable Spaceflight Now

Scientists are proposing splitting an ambitious multibillion-dollar mission to return samples from Mars into three pieces to ease budget concerns, officials said this week. Speaking to reporters from an astrobiology conference in Houston, researchers said the next round of robotic missions to explore the solar system will be better equipped to hunt for past or present life.
The holy grail of those missions is a project to collect soil samples from Mars and return them to Earth. Officials did not disclose a predicted cost for the mission, but it will be expensive enough to warrant a joint endeavor between NASA and the European Space Agency.
A joint Mars exploration initiative finalized last year between NASA and ESA calls for a cooperative sample return mission some time in the 2020s. The sample return effort would follow joint orbiters and landers launching in 2016, 2018 and 2020.