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Speaking with reporters this week, science chief Thomas Zurbuchen wanted to make one thing crystal clear: If program can bring samples from Mars back to Earth before NASA can, the space agency would be more than happy with a second-place trophy.

“If Elon Musk brought the samples in the door right now I'd throw him a party out of my own money," Zurbuchen said. (Knowing how much government employees typically make, that’s saying a lot.)

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"I think that would be a huge success out of the strategies that were pursued by this administration of helping … the private industry to really grow capabilities that 10 years ago were not around," he continued.

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Musk has not as yet publicly responded to NASA’s open door policy for the red planet. Who do you think will come home with a bathing suit filled with Martian sand first, the government or the billionaire tech wizard?

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