UK backs missions to Mars

Britain is to spend £75million on misions to explore Mars and search for life, the Government announced last night.
It will make the UK the second biggest player in Europe’s exploration
of the solar system, beginning the road for a manned mission.
Scientists were thrilled by science minister Lord Sainsbury’s
announcement of full-scale backing for the European Space agency’s
Aurora Project at the end of a ministerial meeting in Berlin.
Most of the cash – around £69.5 million – will go to a robotic probe
called ExoMars which is due to launch in 2011, arriving at Mars in
2013 (see ESA artist’s impression, above). A further £4.9 million will be invested towards a future mission to fly to Mars and return with samples of rock.
The missions will build on the success of Mars Express, a European satellite that is already orbiting Mars and has sent back spectacular pictures and evidence of water on the Red Planet.
Lord Sainsbury said: “Aurora will build on last week’s exciting Mars Express results which provide the first concrete evidence of significant amounts of water under the surface of Mars. As a major contributor, the UK will have a leading role in this programme which is
set to improve our understanding of Mars and the Solar System.”
Britain’s positive support for Aurora recognises the massive public backing for the Beagle 2 mission to Mars, led by Professor Colin Pillinger.
Although the craft is believed to have crashed, it generated huge interest in science among young people which will benefit services such as the NHS when they pick their careers.
And technology invented for Beagle is already being used in other fields. One miniature marvel that was built to analyse gases is now being used to detect instantly illnesses such as TB in poor African countries.
The UK was in the lead again in January when a European probe called Huygens made history by landing on Titan, the biggest moon orbiting Saturn.
Professor John Zarnecki, of the Open University, who was lead scientist on the Huygens mission said after yesterday’s announcement: “This is wonderful news – we can now look forward to British scientific instruments and technology being on the surface of Mars by 2013.
“This is an outstanding opportunity for UK scientists and industry to be a part of this European venture to search for life on Mars and to understand better the environment of our close neighbour.”
Dr Mark Sims of the University of Leicester said: “The Aurora programme is a fantastic opportunity to exploit the great interest in planetary science and exploration throughout Europe and particularly in the UK.
“In particular planetary space science can inspire our young students to continue their education in science, engineering and technology and ultimately encourage them to enter into careers in science and technology. This can only build and strengthen the UK’s industrial and economic base.”
Professor Andrew Coates from the Mullard Space Science Laboratory said: “This is just the news we’ve been waiting for. The exploration of Mars plays a key part in understanding mankind’s place in the Universe. Mars probably offers our best chance to answer a fascinating question – are we alone?.
“Now, the UK can really build on the heritage of Beagle 2 and play a lead role in this exciting mission. We look forward to seeing our pictures, and perhaps even video, from the surface of an exciting world”.

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

Get free Skymania news updates by email

Sign up for alerts to our latest reports. No spam ever - we promise!


Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *