Mars Sample Return Blog

Mars Sample Return Blog

What is the purpose of this site?

This Blog will track the status of Mars Sample Return, raise awareness of the risks of returning Mars samples to Earth, and find out how people from many segments of society feel about it.

The NASA Rover Perseverance will land on Mars in February 2021 to begin collecting Mars soil and rocks for return to Earth. It will land near the dark area called Syrtis Major (see the Overview of Mars page on this site for images of Mars and rover landing sites). (NOTE: On mobile devices the menu button is at the upper right.)

Soon after The NASA Rover Perseverance lands, a Chinese Rover named Tianwen-1 will also land on Mars, possibly very close to the the U.S. Perseverance. China returned Lunar samples to the Earth in December, 2020, and has announced the intention to return Mars samples to the Earth in a future mission to Mars.

At the same time a spacecraft from the United Arab Emirates will arrive and go into orbit around Mars.

There are several possible explanations for the nearly simultaneous missions to Mars – the simplest is that all three missions are taking advantage of the same efficient geometry as the two planets neared each other. But this gives an interesting example of the magnitude of effort that would be required to return Mars Samples to Earth. Is this the start of a misguided race to return potentially dangerous Mars microbes to Earth?

Other events, such as the Covid-19 pandemic and the U.S. Presidential election, completely dominate the news, so that the efforts beginning Mars Sample Return are generally unknown to the public. Were you aware? Do you understand the risks?

To provide a short comment, simply scroll down. All comments appreciated!


If you’ve ever watched or read any Science Fiction, you know that the Geniuses who do this kind of Space Exploration are Incredibly Naive and STUPID!

I think Earth’s ecosystem is so competitive that it would wipe out whatever form of extremophile life is capable of living on Mars…. although all bets are off if we’re talking about something like some kind of virus or something really novel like that.
1) Something that would outcompete everything else in the food chain—I think unlikely.
2) Infectious agent that makes life pretty rough—seems possible if it exists.

This is not a serious issue. Tinfoil hat conspiracy theorist ought to be censored and relegated to the dark corners of the internet.

Craig, thanks for the comment. It is a serious issue discussed by scientists and engineers, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on it, and it affects us all. Definitely not a conspiracy type of thing. But thanks for the comment. Be well.

The only part of the space program I think we should spend money on is what happens in local orbit. It really doesn’t matter what’s happening in far space. What use to humanity is the pretty pictures from the Hubble that we spend billions of $$$ on? None

Rose, thanks for the comment! I’ll check the level of radiation thru the Van Allen belts and post a comment here when I find out. It seems that if that were the case, though, that NASA would be claiming that as a reason that Mars Sample Return is completely safe, and they wouldn’t have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars for a Bio Safety Level 4 facility to handle the samples when they are received.

I’ve read too many Sci-Fi books not to be worried about what might come back with them. Those were fiction ,but what’s to keep it from happening?

I recall that when our astronauts first returned from the moon and were picked up by a Navy ship, there was a protocol in place that required them to be immediately isolated and to have no contact with anyone until after a quarantine period. That protocol was ignored and we were warned by scientists that we were at risk of a pandemic if the astronauts had brought back bacteria to which humans had no natural resistance. In the 1960s and early 70s there was a lot if excitement over our reach into space. I believe that the first landing on the moon was the most watched television broadcast in history…

Paola R., yes it could. We could completely destroy are planet and make it so we can never breathe again that could be worse

Susan H., I would like to know, are you not concerned because you think 1) Mars is sterile? Or 2) because even if it has life, even bacteria, it will not be a danger of Earth, or because 3) if it is dangerous or would be an invasive species, that you trust the scientists to contain it and never have a mistake or accident allowing its release into Earth’s biosphere? Thanks!

Of course either country will just have to bring back a sample… I mean they’re going to do it even if it’s wrong!!

Joy N., I might be dreaming but I think it’s possible that if enough people raise the concern to politicians, NASA will stop the return and be satisfied to study it on Mars. There are international treaties already in existence which could be expanded to prohibit return of Mars Samples until they are completely studied on Mars. If the US agrees, I think China will too.

You sad weak fools. 1 bits of Mars get landed on earth via debris from asteroid strikes on Mars all the time. 2, Our very active biosphere would eat alive any microbe which was not suited to these conditions in seconds. Please understand some science.

Tim G., thanks for the comment. I think you should consider two counterpoints. On 1, there is the case that the specific bacteria or other microbes did not happen to survive the blasting of the meteor off Mars, then thousands of years in space, then entry and impact on Earth. It is much more more likely to survive in a metal container protected in a NASA return vehicle. Anyway the Space Studies Board also considered your point and concluded “Thus it is not appropriate to argue that the existence of Martian meteorites on Earth negates the need to treat as potentially hazardous any samples returned from Mars via robotic spacecraft.” As to your second point, shouldn’t we test that theory on the ISS or on Mars before it’s brought back to Earth?

Interesting thought. Can appreciate that. Not any more concerned than anything else. Nothing gets in or out they don’t want. ?

Space debris has been falling on Earth since it’s birth. Some studies and theories state that it’s possible water and life itself, came from space. No need for paranoia!

Rock, not paranoid – just cautious. No guarantee that Mars life hasn’t evolved to be a lot different than what’s carried on meteors falling in from space. I’m just saying study it on Mars first, or at least the ISS. Why take the chance and expose Earth’s biosphere to it?

Daniel, I watched a Neil deGrasse Tyson show a while back and his show said tardigrades can survive extended time in space.

The Chicxulub impactor (a.k.a. the dinosaur killer) may have contaminated Mars with Earth bacteria, by blasting material into space, some of which eventually landed on Mars. Some Earth rocks could have even reached Saturn’s moons. Whether any Earth bacteria could have survived the trip is another question.

Ken, some pretty esteemed scientists made it an issue at the start of space exploration. There are already international agreements governing efforts that might result in contamination of Earth or other planets. But samples from Mars have never been returned to Earth and we will all share the impact of any possible mistakes or accidents that occur, so I feel justified in in voicing my opinion that the samples be studied on Mars, or at least the ISS, until they are determined to be safe, and not a possible invasive species. These have been suggested by scientists as viable, though more expensive, options. If enough of the public starts voicing concern, especially in an era where we are already suffering through a pandemic, there is a chance NASA will listen.

I don’t know. I think that most of our problems don’t come from doing a thing the first time but whilst doing it many times – when complacency has set in but controls are not in place. Any return mission would have a lot of safety mechanisms and controls…

Not too concerned… With the thin atmosphere on Mars and the extremely low temperatures during a Martian night, not much chance of getting a new “super bug”… 🙂

I’m more concerned about these rovers contaminating Mars with Earth life and possibly destroying the native “life” if there is any there.

They used to worry about this a lot concerning the early moon landings. Turns out it was nothing but nothing to worry about. Doesn’t mean that it would be the same for Mars, but it’s not to good to get overly worried either.

Helen, thanks, but it’s the level of complacency that has me greatly concerned. Mars has a much greater chance of having life than the moon, and any life there has had billions of years to evolve to survive in what we would consider a terrible environment. I’d rather the samples be studied on Mars, or at worst the ISS, until it is known to be safe, or sterile. Why take a chance? We have only one earth.

yes I’ve been wondering about this and the samples taken off the asteroid (Japan I think) We are playing with fire already with our planet and yet we risk more.

yes I did know about the samples and yes I do have concerns. We cant manage the pathogens on our own planet, what chance do we have of completely foreign ones if there are any? I also have concerns that we are spending trillions of $ on space exploration, and whilst very exciting and alluring, we are letting our own planet go to ruin with our unrestricted population growth and consumption, pollution and degradation of the natural world.

I understand your concerns but we must continue forward with intergalactic discoveries and exploration. It’s in our human dna. I fully support the mission. Everything we do has risks. If we can’t trust our scientific community than where do we stand. Who are we? The human race must continue to look forward and explore our universe. Risks yes but Rewards are many.

…given Mars climatology, it’s possible (that there is a threat of a pathogen or invasive species.)
I don’t trust anyone completely (to keep the threat contained.) ?It’s all about calculating risk.

I read about the Mars sample yesterday. It could be left on the space station until a colony could be built on the moon. I think it is a horrible idea to bring thesample back to Earth.

Viable Martian material has been raining down on Earth for >3 billion years, and still is. Current planetary protection protocols were written before we knew that impact ejecta can reach escape velocity without cooking, that microorganisms survive both ejection events and impact events, and that meteorites land with space-cold cores, so that viable material exchange between Mars and Earth, where the material goes from ambient to cold to ambient again, is probably an ongoing (if rare) process.
No worries.

The Space Studies Board of the NRC reported on this exact question in 2009. Are you referring to more recent science wrt survival of Mars microbes reaching Earth via meteorite? Also, how can you be certain that the random process of blasting some Mars microbes to Earth in meteorites will be equivalent to delivering other Mars microbes to a Earth via protected container? Not the same microbes and not the same stress of the transfer. Our history is one of introduced pathogens and invasive species. Glad you feel no worries.?

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