Trace Gas Orbiter’s search for life
THE European Space Agency’s experimental Schiaparelli probe has entered the Red Planet’s Atmosphere with scientists waiting anxiously to hear of the craft’s landing.
The Schiaparelli touched down on Mars late Wednesday night but has given no indication of its safe arrival.
Mission control lost all communication with the probe during it’s descent as the probe hurtled towards the dusty, red planet at a whopping 21,000 kilometres an hour.
“The lander touched down, that is certain, whether it landed intact, whether it hit a rock or a crater or whether it simply cannot communicate, that I don’t know “said Theirry Blancquaert.
Landing any spacecraft on Mars has been notoriously difficult with several missions failing. ESA’s Rover Beagle 2 crash landed and lost contact in 2003 and who can forget the infamous sky-crane maneuver pulled off by the Curiosity Rover back in 2011, a move that left NASA’s Mission Control Room anxiously awaiting communications from the surface following the famed 7-minutes-of-terror descent through the Martian atmosphere.
Probe Schiaparelli is a test run for ESA’s real deal: The EXOMARS Rover landing scheduled for 2020.
The Mothership: Gas Orbiter is carrying NASA materials and tools used in the process of examining and analyzing Methane and other gases in the atmosphere.
The Trace Gas Orbiter’s primary mission is to search for the presence of Methane in Mars’ atmosphere. Methane can be created both biologically or geologically. If Methane reaches the atmosphere and breaks down, it may indicate the possibility of previous or present biological or geological activity on Mars.
Answering the age old question “is there life on Mars?”.
The prospect of finding any living extra-terrestrial entity, micro-organism or not, has excited scientists and the world for some time. But unfortunately for all those who believe in extra-terrestrials, UFOs or just really like Marvin the Martian there is yet to be any evidence of life on Mars.
This Exomars program is the first interplanetary mission jointly undertaken with the Russian space agency Roscosmos and ESA (European Space Agency).
“Failure to make contact will have important implications for the rover mission – probably the most critical will be the political implications for securing funding for the Rover mission, which will be happening at the Ministerial in December.” Says Open University space scientist Dr Manish Patel
“But the positive is that orbiter is safe, and gives us many years of ground-breaking science and discovery ahead.”
ESA is following in NASA’s footsteps and hoping to land a rover on Mars in 2020. This mission, like the Curiosity mission, is paving the way for humanity’s first steps on the Red Planet in the 2030’s, gathering vital information about the surface of Mars, and hopefully answering some questions about our own origins in the solar system.
Either way, the Trace Gas Orbiter is still bobbing along in the Red Planet’s atmosphere looking for precious Methane, so we may soon have the answer to the question we’ve all been asking..
“Is there life on Mars?”