Press Release

Europe launches probe to Mars

By SpaceRef Editor
June 6, 2003
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The European Mars Express probe was launched into space aboard a Soyuz-Fregat rocket on 2 June 2003 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It is now on a trajectory that will take it to the red planet to carry out experiments meant to determine whether life exists or has ever existed there.

Expected to arrive in late December 2003, Mars Express will release the Beagle 2 lander, a self-contained laboratory built by British scientists with the support of the European Space Agency (ESA) for a mere €60 million. The dog-sized robot, weighing only 33 kilograms, will look for direct evidence of existing life, whether combing the Martian atmosphere for methane, a possible biological byproduct, or checking rocks for a form of carbon favoured by cells.

The UK scientist who spearheaded Beagle 2, named for the ship that carried famed biologist Charles Darwin around the world in the 19th century, has told the media that the lack of frills does not mean compromised objectives. “At the beginning, some people thought we were a ‘me too’ mission: Send a lander to Mars and take a picture,” said Colin Pillinger, a professor at the Open University in Britain. “But this is serious science.”

The launch came as high-level representatives from the EU, Russia and other countries were meeting in Prague to discuss international co-operation in space. “Europe is on its way to Mars,” said the Russian Space Agency’s Sergey Kulik. “This is another example of our ongoing partnership in space.”

SpaceRef staff editor.