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
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid