Talk about a bad review.

Total Mess

Houston, we have... so many problems.

As SpaceNews reports, NASA has delayed its Mars Sample Return (MSR) effort after an independent review board found several serious issues regarding the mission's timetable, price tag, and technical details.

The return mission, initially slated for 2026, has always been incredibly ambitious. Still, it's remained highly anticipated; the scientific implications of such a project are vast, and researchers around the globe are eager to get their paws on the coveted Martian samples.

But the mission — which, importantly, is a collaboration between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) — has been plagued by uncertainty. Back in June, reports that its budget had begun to spiral out of control brought about a lot of raised eyebrows. Shortly thereafter, the two-month review by an independent review board was underway.

Unfortunately, to call the review "scathing" might be an understatement. Noting that the MSR mission is "a deep-space exploration priority for NASA," the experts argue that the "strategic and high scientific value of MSR is not being communicated appropriately" to Congress, the scientific community, or the American public, causing confusion and eroding credibility. Even more harshly, the experts go as far as to say that the mission was "organized under an unwieldy structure" and established with "unrealistic budget and schedule expectations from the beginning."

"As a result," the board concluded, "there is currently no credible, congruent technical, nor properly margined schedule, cost, and technical baseline that can be accomplished with the likely available funding."

In other words, according to the review, though the sample return does hold massive scientific promise, NASA's effort has been an expensive, disorganized, and generally incoherent mess.

Review Times Two

Where NASA goes from here remains unclear. In response to the report's findings, the agency announced that it had organized an internal review board — basically, a review board for the review board — to assess the review and, hopefully, restructure the mission according to a new, more feasible timeline.

To be fair, this mission is wildly complicated. This would be the first time humanity launched a spacecraft from an alien planet — a goal riddled with unknowns and massive technical challenges — nevermind landed it again on Earth.

But it would also be the first time humanity would get its hands on a bona fide Martian sample, and in the face of the blistering review, NASA is holding firm in its belief of the mission's significance.

"NASA has plans for a robust Moon to Mars exploration approach," Nicola Fox, NASA's associate administrator for science and the leader of the new new review team, said in a statement. "Mars is [a] rich destination for scientific discovery and understanding the red planet supports the agency’s Artemis program to ultimately send humans to Mars."

More on the MSR: Uh Oh, the Cost of Nasa's Mars Sample Return Mission Is Spiralling out of Control

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