Countdown begins to launch mission to find life on Mars

In a bid to begin a new era of Mars exploration for Europe, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) are set to send a robotic probe to Mars on Monday to find if the planet has traces of alien life.

Named “ExoMars 2016”, the ESA-Roscosmos mission is set to lift off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on a Russian Proton rocket at around 3 p.m., marking the start of a seven-month journey to the Red Planet.

The first phase of the mission will have the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and Schiaparelli lander — an entry, descent and landing demonstrator.

TGO will make a detailed inventory of Mars’ atmospheric gases, with particular interest in rare gases like methane, which implies that there is an active, current source.

“TGO aims to measure its geographical and seasonal dependence and help to determine whether it stems from a geological or biological source,” the ESA said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Schiaparelli will demonstrate a range of technologies to enable a controlled landing on Mars in preparation for future missions.

After a seven-month cruise, the lander will separate from the TGO on October 16 and land on Mars on October 19 for several days of activities.

TGO will then enter orbit around the Red Planet ahead of its exciting multi-year science mission.

It will also serve as a data relay for the second ExoMars mission, comprising a rover and a surface science platform, planned for launch in 2018. It will also provide data relay for NASA rovers.

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