ExoMars: New Mars probe adds to fleet searching for life

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ExoMars probe aiming to find out if methane on Mars might be trace of life

A test lander will descend to the Martian surface

More visits to the Red Planet are planned for the 2020s

CNN  — 

A new phase in the continuing search for life on Mars begins this month – adding to a fleet of spacecraft probing the Red Planet.

And it comes as US President Barack Obama, writing for CNN, pledged to send humans to Mars by the 2030s “with the ultimate ambition to one day remain there for an extended time.”

“I’m excited to announce that we are working with our commercial partners to build new habitats that can sustain and transport astronauts on long-duration missions in deep space.”

The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter arrives next week to start its mission looking for more evidence about methane production and other atmospheric gases that could signal biological activity.

The venture is a joint project between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian state corporation Roscosmos.

In 2014, NASA’s Curiosity rover detected a large spike in methane in the atmosphere, prompting debate about what was causing it.

Methane puzzle

The ESA probe aims to find out more.

“Organisms on Earth release methane as they digest nutrients. However, other purely geological processes, such as the oxidation of certain minerals, also release methane,” ESA says.