PARIS: Europe and Russia will send a test lander Sunday on a one-way trip to the Martian surface, a key step in their joint ExoMars project to search for life on the Red Planet.
ExoMars gets its name from “exobiology”—the science of analyzing the odds and likely nature of life on other planets.
The lander was named Schiaparelli after a 19th century Italian astronomer who had observed lines on Mars through a telescope which he called “canali”.
This was mistranslated into English as canal (instead of channel), which cause many to imagine vast irrigation networks built by intelligent creatures.
Better telescopes in the 20th century killed that legend.
The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) spacecraft, which will analyse our neighbor’s atmosphere, measures 3.5 meters by two meters by two meters. It has solar wings spanning 17.5 metres, tip to tip. With the Schiaparelli lander on board, it is to travel 496 million kilometers to get to Mars.
On Sunday, it will release Schiaparelli from a distance of a million kilometers. The paddling pool-sized lander, 1.6 meters wide, will test entry and landing gear for a subsequent rover to be launched in 2020.
Scientists believe Mars once hosted liquid water—a key ingredient for life as we know it.