US and Europe to visit Mars together

NASA and the European Space Agency are joining forces to plan the future exploration of Mars, including bringing martian rock samples back to Earth.

They’ve signed a deal to co-operate on missions to the Red Planet following two days of talks at Plymouth, in the UK.

It comes as many scientists believe that we could be on the verge of confirming the existence of life on Mars in the form of alien microbes buried in the icy soil.

ESA’s Director of Science and Robotic Exploration, David Southwood, met NASA’s Associate Administrator for Science, Ed Weiler, to discuss how to move forward in exploring the planet that is the most like Earth in the solar system.

They agreed to create a Mars Exploration Joint Initiative – a framework for the two agencies to define and implement their research goals for the Red Planet.

The two space agencies will work together in planning launch opportunities in 2016, 2018 and 2020, to send probes to land on and orbit Mars, study the landscape and search for life.

ESA already has a mission planned for 2016 called ExoMars which will land and dig into the martian soil. The launch of NASA’s next mission, Mars Science Laboratory, has already been delayed from 2009 to 2011 – and renamed Curiosity in the process.

Picture: An impression of Bridget, the European rover planned for Europe’s ExoMars mission. (ESA).

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