A mission to return samples from Mars to Earth has been proposed many times, but never funded to completion. Now a new effort is underway.
NASA press release, 10 December 2007:
International Group Plans Strategy for Mars Sample Return Mission
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.