News / Science & Technology

With Russian Help, Europe Prepares to Search for Life on Mars

A drawing of European Space Agency's ExoMars RoverA drawing of European Space Agency's ExoMars Rover
x
A drawing of European Space Agency's ExoMars Rover
A drawing of European Space Agency's ExoMars Rover
Reuters
The European Space Agency signed final contracts with Thales Alenia Space Italy for work on a pair of missions to assess if the planet Mars has or ever had life, officials said at the Paris Airshow this week.
 
Until last year, the ExoMars program was a joint project between ESA and the U.S. space agency NASA. But NASA dropped out, citing budget problems.
 
The Russian space agency Roscosmos stepped in to provide two Proton rockets to send an orbiting atmospheric probe and test lander to Mars in January 2016, and a follow-on rover in August 2018 that will drill below the planet's surface to look for spores and bacteria.
 
Roscosmos also is providing a landing system for the rover and scientific instruments.
 
“It took some time, some energy, some efforts from a lot of different parties. It was not easy to move from an ESA-NASA cooperation to an ESA-Roscosmos cooperation,” Jean-Jacques Dordain, head of ESA, told reporters after signing a 230 million euros [$300 million] contract with Thales Alenia.
 
Thales Alenia, selected as the ExoMars prime contractor five years ago, plans to spend 146 million euros on the 2016 orbiter and lander. The satellite is being designed to search the thin Martian atmosphere for telltale gasses associated with biological activity. It also will serve as the key communications relay for the 2018 rover.
 
The lander primarily is intended to test the technologies needed to touch down on Mars, a notoriously difficult task that has bedeviled nearly all of Russia's previous efforts and has given NASA trouble as well. The United States currently has two operational rovers on Mars, Curiosity and Opportunity.
 
After pulling out of the ExoMars program, NASA said it would send a second Curiosity-type rover to Mars in 2020.
 
The rest of the ExoMars budget will be spent on the 2018 rover, a mission that will make the first direct search for life since NASA's 1970s-era Viking landers.
 
Instead of sampling the planet's radiation-blasted surface as the Viking probes did, the ExoMars rover will use a radar sounder to search for subterranean water and then drill down about six feet (two meters) for samples that will be processed through onboard laboratories.
 
“If there is any life and if we discover it, it will be unambiguous,” said Vincenzo Giorgo, Thales Alenia's vice president of exploration and space. “On Viking everybody thought, 'We found it, we found it,' but then nobody could prove it.”
 
Thales Alenia Space is a joint venture owned 67 percent by France's Thales and 33 percent by Italy's Finmeccanica .

You May Like

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regreti
X
Zana Omer
March 28, 2015 1:19 AM
Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Virginia Tavern Takes Patrons Back to Medieval Times

European martial arts are not widely practiced and are unknown by most people. A tavern in Old Town Alexandria, outside Washington, wants to change this by promoting these fighting techniques from medieval times. Through combining visual arts, martial arts and culinary arts, this tavern brings medieval history back to life. VOA's Yang Lin and Helen Wu report.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More