NASA's troubled Mars sample-return mission has scientists seeing red

Dec 25, 2023
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NASA's Mars Sample Return program is the agency’s highest priority in planetary science, but projected multibillion-dollar overruns have some calling the plan a 'dumpster fire.'

NASA's troubled Mars sample-return mission has scientists seeing red : Read more
They should just cancel the whole project. It's just ridiculous that it would cost several billion dollars. It is also ridiculous that SLS costs over $2 billion every launch. Starship would only cost $100 million. Seems like it would be better just to wait until we send humans to Mars, which should be by mid-2030s. Starship should make it to orbit next month, with probably 4 launches this year. Then, they will likely ramp them up in 2025.
 
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Feb 20, 2023
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The samples left by Perseverance should be left to a future sample return mission.
The first thing is to land a return launcher with a quickly shoved in sample, to test the return launcher with *lots* of diagnostics.

First time rockets tend to fail, and this would be from a non-Earth like, non-Moon like situation.

A sample return from a hopping hot hydrogen ballon might be next.

Picking up and successfully packing samples into a unique rocket robotically is going to need some complex sitational tests, *if* its the right way to get it done at all.
 
Nov 8, 2023
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Seems to me that further delay makes this endeavor even more of a pipe dream than it's already become -- every time the launch is delayed another year, Perseverance grows longer in the tooth. Are they (NASA MSR proponents) assuming a Curiosity Rover-level lifespan and that full functionality is guaranteed? Can retrieval wait until the mid-2030s or later?

If not, would a new rover also need to be produced, tested, and launched along with it, increasing complexity?
 
Jan 9, 2020
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i am very curious about this whole situation. We sent the rover up there a few years ago to collect samples in tubes and scatter them over the terrain. Was there not a thorough plan and budget regarding how to retrieve those samples? This sounds like a case of the horse getting out of the barn and just taking off into the hills. There doesn't seem to be a viable solution to this problems since the estimates are grossly skewed to be under budget. More than likely this will cost 4 times as much and take 10 years longer than planned. I am all for space exploration, but what were these boffins thinking when they came up with the plan to retrieve Mars samples?
 
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Feb 6, 2020
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They should just cancel the whole project. It's just ridiculous that it would cost several billion dollars. It is also ridiculous that SLS costs over $2 billion every launch. Starship would only cost $100 million. Seems like it would be better just to wait until we send humans to Mars, which should be by mid-2030s. Starship should make it to orbit next month, with probably 4 launches this year. Then, they will likely ramp them up in 2025.
I've advocated letting SpaceX complete this task ever since hearing of the projected timeline snafu:
1. SX's Mars project must needs entail its own sample analyses for a viable colony, or even a basic preliminary crewed Mars base.
2. Falcon Heavy, and especially Starship (later) could send such huge payloads to Mars' surface, that sample-return would be irrelevant: just send a complete mini-lab (manipulators, ultramicroscope, STM, SEM, mass-spectrometer, chromatographs, etc.). Don't send the samples back to the lab, send the lab there.
3.If NASA really wants their samples, and wants them back,  again Starships will be up to the task of getting a collection/return-propulsive-unit package to Mars well before any of agency's proposed timelines, and a lot cheaper.
 
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Once humans land on Mars, it will be cheaper to collect new samples instead of dealing with those already collected by the rover.
Before humans land on Mars, even more so, and sooner . An uncrewed land-and-return mission won't require the vast safety overhead that humans need.
 
Nov 8, 2023
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Once humans land on Mars, it will be cheaper to collect new samples instead of dealing with those already collected by the rover.
Indeed it would be, but that assumes that any planned or near-ish future missions would select Jezero as the landing site for human boots on martian ground. MSR is (or tentatively plans to, however unlikely) necessarily landing near the samples for collection and return.

At present, to paraphrase the article, they're relying on Percy's literal perseverance over the next decade -- or -- possibly one or more Ingenuity-esque drones collecting them and placing them in the return craft. I haven't heard of any validation efforts NASA has undertaken to prove out an Ingenuity variant that is designed for sample retrieval. I could just be ignorant to that development, but don't see much out there regarding alternative remote retrieval options. All I can see is a similarly vague reference to Ingenuity like helicopters that "would" be an alternative retrieval capability on MSR's nasa.gov page.

While Ingenuity, Percy, Curiosity, etc., have been gloriously successful, getting MSR to Jezero soon and utilizing the rover that's already been successfully deployed for this purpose would be the least complex, highest likelihood of success option.

Of course, to target that option, all NASA needs is 50 more years and $1T in additional cost overruns to be approved.
 
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Jan 28, 2023
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Before humans land on Mars, even more so, and sooner . An uncrewed land-and-return mission won't require the vast safety overhead that humans need.
Do you have a payload design ready, for one of the rockets described, to be sent, to do the work of collecting the samples, to prepare a launch pad from Mars on the small rocket to send a ship with these samples to Earth? With all the intermediate stages not described by me? Because if you have yet to make a project... You might not be able to send it before the first manned expedition, or even before the second. Personal opinion, this could be an even more pointless, but at the same time more expensive project than what has been done so far, if it is not multi-purpose enough. Perseverance and the Ingenuity at least have and still have and are performing their other primary tasks.

Ps. You should not edit the post in time when I write mine. :D
 
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i am very curious about this whole situation. We sent the rover up there a few years ago to collect samples in tubes and scatter them over the terrain. Was there not a thorough plan and budget regarding how to retrieve those samples? This sounds like a case of the horse getting out of the barn and just taking off into the hills. There doesn't seem to be a viable solution to this problems since the estimates are grossly skewed to be under budget. More than likely this will cost 4 times as much and take 10 years longer than planned. I am all for space exploration, but what were these boffins thinking when they came up with the plan to retrieve Mars samples?
HEY! Many Boffins DIED to bring us this information, your worshipfulness.

Seriously, though, the article mentions that -- whether conspicuously or inconspicuously -- they bake assumed, eventual "AHA!" moments into their plans and hope for the best. I suppose they think that without sugar coating the scope of the cost/work, they may not get a project greenlighted in the first place. It's political, and when vying for project funding in a zero-sum environment, they cheat to win.

Problem is, being able to rely on AHA! moments requires hard work, creativity, genius-level, paradigm-shifting innovations, and so on. That level of innovation has only been happening in the private sector for the past decade or so. Cultural issue at NASA, talent acquisition issue, management issue, etc.?

Who knows why exactly they're failing so hard in the case of Artemis and MSR, when others like the New Frontiers programs (Juno, New Horizons, OSIRIS-REX particularly) have been hitting absolute home runs.
 
It seemed strange that the article mentions using SLS to loft a more integrated package designed to do all of the tasks, and then talks about the cost to do that, but does not mention that SpaceX Starship is a much cheaper competitor to get such a package into space. It seems pretty clear already that Starship will eclipse SLS in the near future. If NASA keeps fiddling around with the budget, project design, and schedule for "doing it all themselves", SpaceX Mars colonists may end up bringing the NASA samples back from Mars in their "luggage" when then come back to Earth for a vacation.

Bureaucrats learned long ago that it is easier to get budget approval for lowball cost estimates and then get budget supplements for cost overruns than it is to get approval for an honest budget estimate. And government contractors learned long ago that it is easier to get overruns approved than to win a contract with an honest cost estimate. Add to that the fact that inflation during schedule delays adds to the perceived total cost, and overruns are expected for every estimate provided prior to actual mission completion.
 
Jul 20, 2021
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They should just cancel the whole project. It's just ridiculous that it would cost several billion dollars. It is also ridiculous that SLS costs over $2 billion every launch. Starship would only cost $100 million. Seems like it would be better just to wait until we send humans to Mars, which should be by mid-2030s. Starship should make it to orbit next month, with probably 4 launches this year. Then, they will likely ramp them up in 2025.
Starship has yet to achieve orbit, both attempts ended in explosions in the upper atmosphere. Elon Musk claims his starship launches will only cost $100 million per/launch, but why should anybody believe Elon Musk? According to NASA's own Ames Researh Center, it's going to cost anywhere from $600 Billion to $1 TRILLION dollars to send just 4 people to Mars. Mars will always be in our future. Only after we have people living, working, and learning how to do both on the moon will plans for a human Mars mission be realistic.
 
Jul 20, 2021
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Once humans land on Mars, it will be cheaper to collect new samples instead of dealing with those already collected by the rover.
According to NASA'a own Ames Research Center, the cost of sending just 4 people to Mars is going to be anywhere from $600 Billion to $1 Trillion dollars. Thus, sending people, in the big picture, will be astronomically more expensive than sending robots. Mars will always be in our future. One day, we will visit the planet, maybe. But, once there, no one is going to want to stay. No one wants to live permanently in Antarctica, which is a paradise compared to Mars.
 
Jan 28, 2023
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According to NASA'a own Ames Research Center, the cost of sending just 4 people to Mars is going to be anywhere from $600 Billion to $1 Trillion dollars. Thus, sending people, in the big picture, will be astronomically more expensive than sending robots. Mars will always be in our future. One day, we will visit the planet, maybe. But, once there, no one is going to want to stay. No one wants to live permanently in Antarctica, which is a paradise compared to Mars.
Oh yes, I know that score from 40 years ago. They must have forgotten to update their calculations with the latest data on our increased capabilities and reduced shipping cost that the private sector is almost ready to provide.
 
I think that Starship will be capable of launching a consolidated robotic sample return mission to Mars long before NASA develops the equipment to do it in multiple steps with multiple vehicles. That is my point about eclipsing SLS in launch weight capability and cost. It does not have to be a crewed mission by Starship to retrieve the samples. NASA planning to use Starship as the launch vehicle for a robotic mission would probably reduce cost and make planning and equipment design much easier, due to the heavier lift capability and Musk's approach to test by trying instead of betting on the first trial being successful every time.