Europe and Russia will be launching a Mars mission to collect and return soil samples. The joint mission will bore into the Red Planet’s surface to see whether there is life beyond Earth.
The news of the joint Mars mission comes just days after NASA announced a huge find with their Curiosity rover. The US space agency announced that Mars’ soil has the right ingredients for life.
The Europe-Russia joint adventure will require two spacecraft. They will launch in 2016 and 2018 and will likely pave the way for a new kind of mission to Mars — being able to return dirt samples from the planet.
Rolf de Groot, head of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Robotic Exploration Coordination Office, stated, “Curiosity learnt us a little bit, ExoMars will bring us a step further, but bringing back those samples to Earth you can do 10 to 100 times more analysis.”
The joint Mars mission will include the first Mars rover that can drill to a depth of two meters (6.5 feet). The depth will make sure the samples have been shielded from the harsh conditions on the surface of the Red Planet.
Jean-Jacques Dordain, the director-general of the ESA, announced that Thursday’s agreement was a “momentous occasion” for the ExoMars program. Dordain added that the joint Mars mission between Russia and Europe “ill demonstrate the competitiveness of European industry, be important for preparing a solid participation of ESA in future international exploration missions and address the key question of whether life ever arose on Mars.”
NASA was originally involved in the ExoMars program but was forced to pull out because of budget cuts in the agency’s planetary science program. Despite the cuts, the agency will still contribute some communications and engineering support for the joint mission to the Red Planet.
The joint Europe-Russia Mars mission has already released concept designs of the ExoMars rover, which looks curiously like Wall-e.