Assessment of Planetary Protection Requirements for Mars Sample Return Missions, The National Academies Press
"Importance of Mars Sample Return
A sample-return mission is acknowledged to be a major next step in the exploration of Mars because it can address so many high-priority science goals. The NRCs 2003 solar system exploration decadal survey, for example, highlighted three areas where unambiguous answers to key science issues are unlikely without a sample return mission:
- The search for life;
- Geochemical studies and age dating; and
- Understanding of climate and coupled atmosphere-surface-interior processes."
Editor's note: This report was released yesterday. It raises several questions. If humans are to go to Mars, will we do a Mars sample return mission first? NASA and ESA would, but what about China, India or Russia, should they try? And as unlikely as it may seem, what about a potential private venture by a company like SpaceX?
It should be noted that there is no funding for a Mars Sample Return mission at this time and that a NASA or ESA or joint Mars Sample Return mission won't happen until sometime after 2020 at the earliest.