Dec. 10, 2007

Dwayne Brown
Headquarters, Washington

RELEASE: 07-269


WASHINGTON - NASA and an international team are developing plans and
seeking recommendations to launch the first Mars mission to bring
soil samples back to Earth. The ability to study soil from Mars here
on Earth will contribute significantly to answering questions about
the possibility of life on the Red Planet. Returned samples also will
increase understanding of the useful or harmful properties of Martian
soil, which will support planning for the eventual human exploration
of Mars.

A task force named the International Mars Architecture for Return of
Samples, or IMARS, recently met in Washington to lay the foundation
for an international collaboration to return samples from Mars. NASA
hosted the meeting. IMARS meeting participants included
representatives from more than half a dozen countries and NASA, the
European Space Agency, or ESA, the Canadian Space Agency and the
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

IMARS is a committee of the International Mars Exploration Working
Group, or IMEWG. The group was formed in 1993 to provide a forum for
the international coordination of Mars exploration missions.

“The potential paradigm-changing science from Mars samples makes this
mission a high priority of the National Academy of Sciences,” said
Doug McCuistion, NASA’s Mars Exploration program director, Science
Mission Directorate, Washington.

“The exciting progress being made by the IMARS team is contributing
directly to making this mission a reality in the next decade, All
spacefaring nations have a standing invitation from IMEWG to
participate in IMARS.”

Scientists reviewed past engineering work on a Mars sample return
mission, international science priorities, and sample receiving
facility requirements. The IMARS team made significant progress in
many of the key issues associated with the integration of science and
engineering challenges. The team established a common strategy for
launching a Mars sample return mission and achieving scientific
objectives that can be met only by returning Martian soil to Earth.

“For Europe this is a major step to shape the future of the ESA Aurora
Exploration Programme in 2008,” said Bruno Gardini, ESA’s Exploration
Program Manager. The Aurora Programme is part of Europe’s strategy
for space, initiated by ESA in 2001 to create and implement a
long-term European plan for robotic and human exploration of the
solar system.

The next steps in preparing for a Mars sample return mission includes
more detailed international trade studies on engineering and mission
specifics, greater detail on science and sample requirements, and
definition and requirements for Earth-based facilities. IMARS will
address the technical issues in upcoming meetings, along with
preliminary discussions of the possible roles of interested nations
and agencies.

For more information about NASA’s Mars Program, visit: