“I’m excited to announce that we are working with our commercial partners to build new habitats that can sustain and transport astronauts on long-duration missions in deep space.”
The venture is a joint project between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian state corporation Roscosmos.
The ESA probe aims to find out more.
He explained that although methane is present on other planets, on Earth it is a signature of life.
“What we find on Earth is that … some 90% of Earth’s methane is biological, whether that’s active now or from past biology that’s decomposing,” he said. “That means if we look at another planet like Mars … maybe that’s a sign of biology.”
Stevens stressed that methane can be produced by other means, and not just life, but told CNN that the ExoMars mission will help “rule out some possibilities … to tease out what is going on.”
For example, he said, if methane was found at the poles where it’s extremely cold then the methane is not produced by something that’s melting.
ESA to test lander
ESA says the probe will also try to detect deposits of water ice below the surface, and help guide the selection of a suitable landing site for future missions.
ESA says the impact will be cushioned by a structure similar to a crumple zone in a car.
The landing site has been chosen because it contains a layer of iron oxide that on Earth almost always forms in an environment containing liquid water, ESA says.
Schiaparelli has been designed to operate for a few days and will measure wind speed, temperature, humidity and pressure.
This mission is part of a longer-term ESA project to explore the Red Planet. The next ExoMars launch is planned for 2020 and will include a rover that can drill into the Martian surface to analyze samples.
The Europeans will be hoping for more success than on their previous mission to the surface of Mars. A British-built probe called Beagle 2, part of ESA’s Mars Express program, was lost on Christmas Day in 2003 after contact failed during the descent.
Mass Mars exploration
Schiaparelli and its orbiting sister craft make up a growing swarm of satellites and surface robots that are continuing to hunt for signs of life on our neighboring planet.
Two NASA rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, arrived shortly after Beagle 2. Spirit got stuck in the Martian soil in 2009 and its mission was ended in 2011 but Opportunity has traveled more than a marathon distance of 26 miles and is still operational.
New missions planned
NASA says the rover will have a nuclear power source that can last at least 10 years and will include a test for producing oxygen from the Martian atmosphere — something that might be crucial for future human exploration.
Its cameras will be able to generate 3-D maps, while instruments will try to detect and analyze organic molecules in the rocks and dust.
The rover will also be equipped with ground-penetrating radar to look for unusual features such as ice or brine.
Private companies are keen to join the trips to the Red Planet.