The European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) are preparing a two-stage mission to look for life on Mars. Central to this mission is the sophisticated ExoMars rover, and last week British scientists gave it a sizable sandbox to play in: 300 tons of sand and rocks, simulating the Martian landscape, that it will use to train the rover’s AI for autonomous navigation on Mars’ surface.
The ESA has produced this animation of the new rover at work:
The rover will be launched in 2018 and arrive on the Martian surface in January 2019. As you may have noticed from the video, its most impressive feature is a two-meter drill that it will use to dig into the Martian soil and retrieve organic samples. Because the mission equipment isn’t designed to bring the samples back to Earth (launching an unmanned vehicle from the surface of Mars still falls into the things-we-can’t-do-yet category), they’ll be analyzed using equipment that will also be delivered to the Martian surface. The goal is to find within that sample either living microorganisms, evidence that living microorganisms used to exist, or evidence that living microorganisms could survive beneath the Martian surface.