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Garcia in bipartisan bid to recover Mars samples


Joins colleagues in letter to NASA administrator

Roughly two dozen California congressional representatives sent a letter to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson today calling on him to commit at least $650 million to an ambitious Jet Propulsion

Laboratory-led mission to collect rock and soil samples from Mars and return them to Earth.

The Mars Sample Return mission has fallen victim to budget cutbacks, contributing to the layoffs of more than 500 people at JPL in Pasadena earlier this year. Earlier this month, budget committees in the House and Senate proposed directing just $300 million toward the project, a 63% drop from the previous year and only a fraction of what was requested this year.

In the letter sent to Nelson Wednesday, members of California's congressional delegation–including Reps. Judy Chu (CA-28), Mike Garcia, (CA-27), and Adam Schiff (CA-30)--called the Mars Sample mission a critical program that will ensure the United States is a leader in exploration of space and Mars.

“If NASA continues to put forward insufficient funding necessitating any further reductions in staff downstream and unnecessary delays to the mission, it risks compromising our national leadership with respect to solar system exploration, compromising our future human missions to Mars, compromising our scientific community's process for providing independent advice and recommendations to the federal government, and undermining the intent of Congress,'' the letter states. “Therefore, we strongly urge you to submit an FY 2024 operating plan that funds MSR at no less than $650 million.''

The Mars Perseverance rover on the surface of the red planet has already gathered soil and rock samples and deposited them in specialized containers for future retrieval. The Mars Sample Return program–in partnership with the European Space Agency–envisions a future lander that would collect the container tubes and then launch them into orbit above Mars, where they would be retrieved by a spacecraft and returned to Earth. It would mark the first time material from another planet was retrieved and brought to Earth for scientific study.

The proposed timing of a return mission is in flux, based on the funding issues. NASA officials originally envisioned launching the return mission sometime between 2028 and 2030. Some reports have estimated that the overall cost of the mission could reach as high as $11 billion.