New mission searches for life on Mars The Proton-M rocket booster blasts off at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Monday, March 14, 2016. The Russian rocket carries an orbiter for measuring atmospheric gases of Mars and a Mars lander of the 'ExoMars 2016' mission. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)
New mission searches for life on Mars
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Europe and Russia have launched a joint mission to explore the atmosphere of Mars and hunt for signs of life on the red planet.
 
The unmanned ExoMars probe is a partnership between the European Space Agency and Roscosmos. It took off March 14. The probe is aboard a Russian rocket. It is expected to reach Mars in October.
 
The probe's Trace Gas Orbiter will analyze methane and other gases in the Martian atmosphere. It wants to determine where they are coming from. This is according to Paolo Ferri, ESA's head of mission operations.
 
Methane is created by biological or geological activity. It breaks down within a relatively short period of time once it reaches the atmosphere.
 
"It cannot be older than 400 years. That means there has been either biological or geological activity in this timeframe," said Ferri. "Four hundred years is nothing. If there is methane, it means there is basically a process going on now."
 
The prospect of finding life on Mars, even microscopic organisms, has excited scientists for some time. So far, none has been discovered.
 
"The fact that they've not found life doesn't mean certainly that there's no life there," said Ferri. He noted that much of the planet's vast surface hasn't been closely examined.
 
That task will fall to a rover that ESA plans to send to Mars in 2018. Until then, the orbiter will have time to find a good landing spot. It will conduct a test run using a trial lander. The lander's name is Schiaparelli. It is on board the probe.
 
If life is discovered, it actually raises questions about whether future manned missions to the planet should be attempted, said Mark McCaughrean. He is senior science adviser at ESA.
 
"Weirdly, if we find life on Mars, it actually really begs the question if we should go at all with human beings because of that idea of planetary protection," he said at ESA mission control. It is in Darmstadt, Germany. "We would take with us bugs. And if now those bugs meet Martian bugs, that could be a disaster."
 
Landing a spacecraft on Mars is particularly difficult. Several attempts have failed. One included ESA's Beagle 2 probe that was part of the Mars Express mission in 2003. Beagle 2 disappeared during the landing process. It was a setback the agency is keen to avoid this time, hence the decision to separate the orbiter mission from the actual landing attempt.
 
"It was quite clear that putting both things in one mission drove up the complexity," said Ferri.
 
ExoMars cost the European Space Agency alone $1.44 billion. ExoMars is the first interplanetary mission jointly undertaken by ESA and Roscosmos.
 
The orbiter also has a NASA-built radio on board. The radio will help relay signals from other Mars probes.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why did Paolo Ferri say “Four hundred years is nothing?”
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (77)
  • waverlyb-612-
    3/18/2016 - 10:46 a.m.

    Paolo Ferri said that four hundred years was nothing because the process of methane would be going on right now, meaning that life forms are still new or are just now starting to form on Mars.

  • emmao-612-
    3/18/2016 - 11:13 a.m.

    I think he said that because he wants there to be a living thing on Mars because he probably wants test the creature.

  • spencerh1-pro
    3/18/2016 - 11:33 a.m.

    Paolo Ferri says "Four hundred years is nothing",because there are alot more things that are way older things than four hundred years.

  • haileya-bru
    3/18/2016 - 11:37 a.m.

    Paolo Ferri said "Four hundred years is nothing." Because all the time and effort put in to things like this. Paolo might feel that 400 years is a very short amount of time.

  • briannec-ste
    3/18/2016 - 01:31 p.m.

    It would be very cool to know if there were life on mars. And if there was it would be a big deal because then everyone would want to know more. But go Russia and Europe.

  • mitchells-ver
    3/18/2016 - 01:59 p.m.

    I'm glade that new people around the world are going to mars too which could mean that we are not the alone on the mission to mars.

  • alexp2-ver
    3/18/2016 - 02:17 p.m.

    Paolo Ferri said "Four hundred years is nothing" because Mars have been alive for so long 400 years is like a day to the Suns life.

  • kylel-ver
    3/18/2016 - 03:25 p.m.

    400 years is nothing compared to how long Mars has been living.

  • raymondc-ver
    3/18/2016 - 03:29 p.m.

    I wanna know more about Mars, and live in Mars 2026,
    I hope.

  • lukep-6-bar
    3/18/2016 - 04:06 p.m.

    Europe and Russia have launched a joint mission to explore the atmosphere of Mars. A probe is aboard a Russian rocket."Four hundred years is nothing. If there is methane, it means there is basically a process going on now," said Ferri. Ferri means that four hundred years is nothing compared to how long the universe has been around.

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