Groundbreaking sample return from Mars: the next giant leap in understanding the red planet

Treiman, Allan H.; Wadhwa, Meenakshi; Shearer, Charles K.; McPherson, Glenn J.; Papike, James J.; Wasserburg, Gerald J.; Floss, Christine; Rutherford, Malcolm J.; Flynn, George J.; Papanastassiou, Dimitri; Westphal, Andrew; Neal, Clive; Jones, John H.; Harvey, Ralph H. and Schwenzer, Susanne (2009). Groundbreaking sample return from Mars: the next giant leap in understanding the red planet. LPI.



Sample return is among the most important goals of Mars science (NRC 2003; MEPAG NDSAG 2008; iMARS 2008). “The Mars Panel attaches the greatest importance to Mars Sample Return …” (NRC 2003). Mars Sample Return appears complex and expensive, so simple and less-expensive architectures are worth analysis. One such architecture is Groundbreaking MSR: a simple lander, without precision landing, carrying only sampling devices (e.g., arm + scoop, small drill, fetch rover), imager(s), and a rocket to return the samples toward Earth (MacPherson et al. 2002, 2005; Mattingly et al. 2005). To be effective, the lander must target a site of broad, uniform materials, characterized well by prior spacecraft. A Groundbreaking MSR mission in the next decade would address most of the science goals for MSR, including astrobiology goals (MEPAG NDSAG 2008, iMars 2008), and leverage the superb data in hand from orbiter and lander spacecraft (e.g., MERs, MRO, Mars Express). The cost of Groundbreaking MSR is probably consistent with a single flagship mission. In this whitepaper, we describe the Groundbreaking architecture, and recount advantages and goals of sample return. To prove the Groundbreaking concept, we then show that sample return from either MER landing site (Meridiani Planum or Gusev Crater) would enable significant paradigm-altering science and satisfy many stated science goals for MSR. Thus, we recommend that the Planetary Decadal Survey Mars Panel consider the advantages of simple MSR, and request an independent cost analysis of a Groundbreaking MSR architecture.

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