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From: Dan Dubrick
To: All
Date: 2003-05-25 13:31:00
Subject: 5\19 ESA sets ambitious goals for first European mission to Mars

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Paris, 19 May 2003
Information Note
Nx 11-2003

Mars Express - ESA sets ambitious goals for the first European
mission to Mars

On 2 June 2003, the first European mission to Mars will be launched.
It will also be the first European mission to any planet. Mars
Express has been designed to perform the most thorough exploration
ever of the Red Planet. It has the ambitious aim of not only
searching for water, but also understanding the 'behaviour' of the
planet as a whole. But maybe the most ambitious aim of all - Mars
Express is the only mission in more than 25 years that dares to
search for life. 

Mars has always fascinated human beings. No other planet has been
visited so many times by spacecraft. And still, it has not been easy
to unveil its secrets. Martian mysteries seem to have increased in
quantity and complexity with every mission. When the first spacecraft
were sent - the Mariner series in 1960s - the public was expecting an
Earth 'twin', a green, inhabited planet full of oceans. Mariner
shattered this dream by showing a barren surface. This was followed
by the Viking probes which searched for life unsuccessfully in 1976.
Mars appeared dry, cold and uninhabited: the Earth's opposite.
Now, two decades later, modern spacecraft have changed that view, but
they have also returned more questions. Current data show that Mars
was probably much warmer in the past. Scientists now think that Mars
had oceans, so it could have been a suitable place for life in the

"We do not know what happened to the planet in the past. Which
process turned Mars into the dry, cold world we see today?" says
Agustin Chicarro, ESA's Mars Express project scientist. "With Mars
Express, we will find out. Above all, we aim to obtain a complete
global view of the planet - its history, its geology, how it has
evolved. Real planetology!" 

Mars Express will reach the Red Planet by the end of December 2003,
after a trip of just over six months. Six days before injection into
its final orbit, Mars Express will eject the lander, Beagle 2, named
after the ship on which Charles Darwin found inspiration to formulate
his theory of evolution. The Mars Express orbiter will observe the
planet and its atmosphere from a near-polar orbit, and will remain in
operation for at least a whole Martian year (687 Earth days). Beagle
2 will land in an equatorial region that was probably flooded in the
past, and where traces of life may have been preserved.

The Mars Express orbiter carries seven advanced experiments, in
addition to the Beagle 2 lander. The orbiter's instruments have been
built by group of scientific institutes from all over Europe, plus
Russia, the United States, Japan and China. These instruments are a
subsurface sounding radar; a high-resolution camera, several surface
and atmospheric spectrometers, a plasma analyzer and a radio science

The high-resolution camera will image the entire planet in full
colour, in 3D, at a resolution of up to 2 metres in selected areas.
One of the spectrometers will map the mineral composition of the
surface with great accuracy.

The missing water
Data from some of the instruments will be key to finding out what
happened with the water which was apparently so abundant in the past.
For instance, the radar altimeter will search for subsurface water
and ice, down to a depth of a few kilometres. Scientists expect to
find a layer of ice or permafrost, and to measure its thickness.

Other observations with the spectrometers will determine the amount
of water remaining in the atmosphere. They will also tell whether
there is a still a full 'water cycle' on Mars, for example how water
is deposited in the poles and how it evaporates, depending on the

"These data will determine how much water there is left. We have
clear evidence for the presence of water in the past, we have seen
dry river beds and sedimentary layers, and there is also evidence for
water on present-day Mars. But we do not know how much water there
is. Mars Express will tell us," says Chicarro.

The search for life
The instruments on board Beagle 2 will investigate the geology and
the climate of the landing site. But, above all, it will look for
signs of life.

Contrary to the Viking missions, Mars Express will search for
evidence for both present and past life. Scientists are now more
aware that a few biological experiments are not enough to search for
life - they will combine many different types of tests to help
discard contradictory results.

To 'sniff' out direct evidence of past or present biological
activity, Beagle 2's 'nose' is a gas analysis package. This will
determine whether carbonate minerals, if they exist on Mars, have
been involved in biological processes. Beagle's nose will also detect
gases such as methane, which scientists believe can only be produced
by living organisms.

Beagle 2 will also be able to collect samples from below the surface,
whether under large boulders or within the interiors of rocks -
places that the life-killing ultraviolet radiation from the Sun
cannot reach. These samples will be collected with a probe called the
'mole', which is able to crawl short distances across the surface, at
about 1 centimetre every six seconds, and to dig down to 2 metres

Mars Express will add substantial information to the international
effort to explore Mars. "Mars Express is crucial for providing the
framework within which all further Mars observations will be
understood," says Chicarro.

The Mars Express spacecraft is now in Bajkonour, Kazakhstan, being
prepared for its launch in early June 2003.

For further information please contact: 

ESA - Communication Department
Media Relations Office
Tel: +33(0)
Fax: +33(0)

Rudolf Schmidt, ESA - Mars Express Project Manager
ESA/ESTEC - Noordwijk, The Netherlands
Tel: +31 71 565 3603
Email: Rudolf.Schmidt{at}

Agustin Chicarro, ESA - Mars Express Project Scientist
ESA/ESTEC - Noordwijk, The Netherlands
Tel: +31 71 565 3613
Email: Agustin.Chicarro{at}

For more information about the Mars Express mission and launch
campaign visit:

Live images of the Mars Express spacecraf are available at:

For more information about the ESA Science Programme, visit:

For more information about the ESA visit:


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