For centuries, mankind has wondered whether alien life exists on another planet in our solar system. One of the most promising places to discover signs of life beyond Earth is the planet Mars, and scientists around the globe are clamouring for an opportunity to participate in ExoMars, an exobiology mission which is being planned as part of ESA's pioneering Aurora Programme.
Earlier this year, ESA issued a call for ideas for the Pasteur instrument payload that will be carried on the ExoMars rover. The response has been remarkable, with some 580 investigators from 30 countries expressing the desire to participate in this exciting mission.
"There has been a great response from the international scientific community, with approximately 260 universities, research institutes and companies wanting to take part," said Jorge Vago, ExoMars study scientist.
"Apart from the ESA Member States, we have had expressions of interest from scientists in Australia, Brazil, China, Mexico, Russia, the United States and much of Eastern Europe."
"There are some very innovative proposals which involve 'leapfrog jumps' in technology, including cameras that will outperform anything previously flown and several instruments using biochips, an advanced technology that has enormous potential for detecting organic molecules."
Over the next few months, the flood of proposals will be subjected to a rigorous peer review in order to select the most appropriate technologies to achieve the mission objectives. Working groups of scientists from the teams that put forward the most promising proposals will then be given the opportunity to define the composition of the Pasteur payload that will eventually travel to Mars.
ExoMars, the first Flagship mission in ESA's long-term Aurora Programme, is currently scheduled for launch in 2009.
The primary objective of ExoMars will be to search for signs of life, past or present, on the Red Planet. Secondary objectives will be to identify potential surface hazards to future human missions, to determine the distribution of water on Mars and to measure the chemical composition of the surface rocks.
These studies will be undertaken by a large (230 kg), high-mobility rover equipped with a comprehensive suite of scientific instruments - the Pasteur payload. The instrument mass of this payload is anticipated to be around 30 kg.
The final decision on ExoMars will be taken at the ESA Ministerial Council meeting in late 2004.
ExoMars call for ideas
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Tumbling Across Distant Worlds
Washington - May 19, 2003
Students from North Carolina State University (NCSU) are helping NASA expand the exploration of the surface of Mars. The team of students and researchers has designed a wind-powered rover that can be blown, like tumbleweed, across the surface of the Red Planet collecting atmospheric and geological samples at multiple locations.
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