Rationale and Proposed Design for a Mars Sample Return (MSR) Science Program

Haltigin, Timothy; Hauber, Ernst; Kminek, Gerhard; Meyer, Michael A.; Agee, Carl B.; Busemann, Henner; Carrier, Brandi Lee; Glavin, Daniel P.; Hays, Lindsay E; Marty, Bernard; Pratt, Lisa M; Udry, Arya; Zorzano, Maria-Paz; Beaty, David W; Cavalazzi, Barbara; Cockell, Charles S.; Debaille, Vinciane; Grady, Monica M.; Hutzler, Aurore; McCubbin, Francis M.; Regberg, Aaron B.; Smith, Alvin L.; Smith, Caroline L; Summons, Roger E.; Swindle, Timothy D.; Tait, Kimberly T.; Tosca, Nicholas J.; Usui, Tomohiro; Velbel, Michael A.; Wadhwa, Meenakshi and Westall, Frances (2022). Rationale and Proposed Design for a Mars Sample Return (MSR) Science Program. Astrobiology, 22(S1) S–27-S–56.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1089/ast.2021.0122


The Mars Sample Return (MSR) Campaign represents one of the most ambitious scientific endeavors ever undertaken. Analyses of the martian samples would offer unique science benefits that cannot be attained through orbital or landed missions that rely only on remote sensing and in situ measurements, respectively. As currently designed, the MSR Campaign comprises a number of scientific, technical, and programmatic bodies and relationships, captured in a series of existing and anticipated documents. Ensuring that all required scientific activities are properly designed, managed, and executed would require significant planning and coordination. Because there are multiple scientific elements that would need to be executed to achieve MSR Campaign success, it is critical to ensure that the appropriate management, oversight, planning, and resources are made available to accomplish them. This could be achieved via a formal MSR Science Management Plan (SMP). A subset of the MSR Science Planning Group 2 (MSPG2)—termed the SMP Focus Group—was tasked to develop inputs for an MSR Campaign SMP. The scope is intended to cover the interface to the Mars 2020 mission, science elements in the MSR flight program, ground-based science infrastructure, MSR science opportunities, and the MSR sample and science data management. In this report, a comprehensive MSR Science Program is proposed that comprises specific science bodies and/or activities that could be implemented to address the science functionalities throughout the MSR Campaign. The proposed structure was designed by taking into consideration previous management review processes, a set of guiding principles, and key lessons learned from previous robotic exploration and sample return missions.

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