The European Space Agency said it will send a rover to Mars to determine if the Red Planet currently has or ever had life, officials said this week.
“If there was life somewhere other than Earth, then Mars is the obvious choice,” Olivier Witasse, the Mars Express Project Scientist with the European Space Agency, told the Euronews website.
The BBC reported that under the ExoMars program, the agency will send a rover to Mars in 2018 after exploring the planet with a satellite in 2016.
“ExoMars is on track today and we can all be very pleased with this result,” said Jean-Loic Galle, who heads the joint project, according to the broadcaster.
The NASA rover Curiosity, which is looking for microbial habitats that may have supported life on Mars, has a different mission than Europe’s rover, ExoMars coordinators said this week.
“The ExoMars rover is going to be looking for life, drilling two meters below the Martian surface and having all the tools and instruments designed just for that scientific objective,” Vincenzo Giorgio, the vice-president of Thales Alenia, which is the European Space Agency’s main contractor in the ExoMars project, according to Discovery News.
The space agency signed a $300 million contract with Thales Alenia for the project.
Russia is also providing two of the four instruments for the 2016 orbiter as well as the landing mechanism. The Russian space agency, Roscosmos, will also pay for two Proton rockets used to launch the missions, according to the BBC.
“I shall not go over the difficulties we had in putting ExoMars together. It took some time and energy from a lot of parties, in particular from industry. It was not easy to move from an Esa/Nasa co-operation to an Esa/Roscosmos cooperation,” Galle told the BBC.