On March 14 2016 the European Space Agency (ESA) will launch the first of two ExoMars missions. The second mission is scheduled to launch sometime in 2018 and builds on information provided by the first.
ESA has partnered with Roscosmos, the Russian space agency for both of these missions. Generally ESA is providing mission management and most of the instruments particularly for the first mission.
Roscosmos is will use its Proton rocket to launch both missions from its facility in Baikonur, and for the second mission contribute the descent module and the platform for the rover.
Quoting ESA as to the purpose of these missions:
“Establishing if life ever existed on Mars is one of the outstanding scientific questions of our time. To address this important goal, the European Space Agency (ESA) has established the ExoMars programme to investigate the Martian environment and to demonstrate new technologies paving the way for a future Mars sample return mission in the 2020’s.”
If a sample is going to be returned to Earth it should be one selected by a human. That’s not species hubris talking. Geologists are on record as saying that while the rovers do a great job of collecting samples, there is no substitute for a human in that role.
Continue reading “ESA’s ExoMars: Been there, Done or doing most of this, When do humans get to go to Mars?”