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18 Feb, 2016 22:55

‘Jump in knowledge’: EU & Russia space teams merge for ExoMars – head of ESA Moscow to RT

In a first-of-its-kind mission scheduled for next month, ExoMars 2016 is to drill deeper than ever before beneath the surface of Mars. The project could lead to a shift in our understanding of space and the origins of life, the head of ESA’s permanent office in Moscow told RT.

ExoMars 2016 is a joint project between the European and Russian space agencies, consisting of two stages. The mission will culminate in 2018 when a rover will drill the Red Planet’s surface to a depth of two solid meters. No one has ever been that low on Mars.

Coming across organic samples on a far-away planet will most likely be a ground-breaking discovery that could change our conceptions of the origins of life, Rene Pischel, head of ESA’s permanent office in Moscow, said.

“That would be really interesting and exciting and would give us quite a jump in our knowledge,” Pischel stressed.

The expedition starts off with the launch of an orbiter in March set to arrive on Mars in October, 2016.

The probe, called Trace Gas Orbiter, will carry an aerodynamic capsule with a robotic module, known as Schiaparelli, tasked with collecting information on the Martian atmosphere and other factors that could be important for the second part of the mission.

After all the necessary data is collected, in 2018 a European rover will head for Mars to drill into its surface and search for remnants of organic life.

The main concern for the engineers working on the project at the moment is the landing stage, since ESA doesn’t follow NASA’s example and uses a different technology.

“Anything can go wrong, but the biggest worry is landing on Mars,” Pischel noted.

“For us it’s the first time to land something on Mars, we go step by step and use a more classical scheme,” he said.

“I think we can rely on our engineers. I think we can be optimistic that things will be okay.”

After all the necessary data is considered, in 2018 a European rover will head for Mars to drill into its surface and search for remnants of organic life.

Pischel also mentioned that the competition between ESA and NASA – whose Curiosity rover drilled a 7-centimeter deep hole in the Martian surface in 2013 – is out of the question.

“Many scientists are [taking part] both in the ExoMars and NASA missions, so there’s no competition.”

Pischel drew a parallel between the upcoming mission and the much-talked of movie ‘The Martian,’ starring Matt Damon, saying that filmmakers were not that far from reality, and that time when astronauts will travel to Mars on a regular basis is around the corner.

In 2009 the ESA governments agreed to allocate 850 million euro (nearly $942 million) to the two-part project, scheduled for 2016 and 2018. Initially Russia was supposed to only provide the European agency with the rocket carriers. After some consideration, however, Moscow insisted on equal partnership.