CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (NEWSnet/AP) — NASA’s plan to bring samples from Mars to Earth is on hold until there’s a faster, cheaper way, space agency officials said Monday.

Retrieving Mars soil and rocks has been on NASA’s to-do list for decades, but delays continue and expense climbs. A recent independent review put the total cost at $8 billion to $11 billion, with an arrival year of 2040, about a decade later than advertised.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said that’s too much, too late. He’s asking private industry and the space agency’s centers to develop other options. With NASA facing budget cuts, he wants to avoid gutting other projects to finance the Mars sample project.

“We want to get every new and fresh idea that we can,” he said.

NASA’s rover Perseverance already has gathered 24 core samples in tubes since landing in 2021 at Mars’ Jezero Crater, an ancient river delta. The goal is more than 30 samples to scour for possible signs of ancient Martian life.

The space agency wants to get at least some of the collected samples to Earth sometime in the 2030s, for no more than the $7 billion. That would require a spacecraft that goes to Mars to retrieve the tubes, then launches from the planet, and have e a rendezvous with another spacecraft that would deliver the samples to Earth.

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