Are we alone, or is there life beyond Earth? Has life ever existed on Mars? The European Space Agency (ESA) is now offering scientists a rare opportunity to answer these fundamental questions that have intrigued mankind for centuries.
In order to determine whether life ever evolved on Mars, ESA intends to launch an exobiology mission, known as ExoMars, to the Red Planet in 2009. As part of ESA's long-term Aurora programme to prepare for future human missions, ExoMars will deploy a high-mobility rover on the Martian surface.
The key to the success of this scientific quest will be the rover's Pasteur payload, a comprehensive suite of instruments that will characterise the Martian biological environment. In order to be able to meet the 2009 launch opportunity, the Agency is already starting to define the experiments that will make up this payload.
Accordingly, the Aurora Programme Office has recently released a "call for ideas" from the scientific community for the ExoMars mission. This call for ideas is the first step in the process seeking to obtain the highest quality research for ExoMars and its Pasteur payload. It is also designed to foster international cooperation among multidisciplinary science teams and to avoid duplication of projects.
"I very much hope that, as in the past, we can count on a strong contribution from the scientific community to the definition of this exciting mission," said Jorge Vago, ExoMars Study Scientist.
The ExoMars-Pasteur payload opportunity is open to investigators from all countries. However, each proposal's team coordinator must be based in one of the ESA member states. No proposal will be accepted unless it includes scientific organisations from at least three European countries in the team behind it.
Scientists responding to this call for ideas are requested to follow the guidelines provided on the ExoMars-Pasteur website (see below). Initial expressions of interest must be received by 28 March 2003. The proposals themselves are due by 14 May 2003.
As its name suggests, the ExoMars mission is expected to provide significant new insights into the surface environment of the Red Planet, with particular emphasis on exobiology, the search for signs of Martian life, past or present.
The configuration of the ExoMars mission is still being defined. As currently envisaged, the ExoMars orbiter will release a descent module and solar- powered rover onto the planet's pristine surface.
Equipped with a drill and sampling system, this autonomous roving vehicle will spend many months exploring the hostile terrain and analysing soil from sites that might be hospitable to primitive Martian life forms. The Aurora Board of Participants recently authorised a phase A study of ExoMars that will also look into the possibility of combining the French Netlander mission with the European effort.
The final decision on ExoMars will be taken at an ESA Ministerial Council meeting in late 2004.
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A Case for Life on Mars
Leicester - Sep 11, 2002
A multitude of arguments supporting the possible existence of life on Mars have surfaced after the discovery and examination of the ALH84001 meteorite. The polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) found within, plus detailed examination of the ratios of certain metabolites, all have various interpretations supporting or opposing their organic origin.
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