The Space News article NASA continues Mars sample return mission studies
Among those planned missions is Mars sample return, a multi-mission architecture that involves collecting samples of Martian rock and regolith and caching them for collection by a later mission. That mission would then launch the samples into Martian orbit where a spacecraft would retrieve them and send them to Earth.
NASA’s Mars 2020 rover will carry out the first phase of that effort by caching samples. Future steps remain undefined, although the agency’s leadership says that Mars sample return remains a priority.
“Certainly, Mars sample return is something that we are committed to as an agency,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a June 6 briefing with reporters. “That’s a civilization-level changing capability, and we want to do it.”
Question: What is a "civilization-level changing capability", and why would bringing samples from Mars back to Earth be one?
Of course if some microbe brought back to Earth from Mars escaped bio-containment and unexpectedly altered Earths' ecosystem, that would certainly be civilization-level changing, but I hope that's not what's being envisioned here!