Is there, or has there ever been, life on Mars? European and Russian scientists are hoping to find out, with the first test probe set to land on Mars on Wednesday.
Tension at the European Space Agency's (ESA) mission control in Darmstadt, Germany is rising as the European-Russian ExoMars probe makes its final descent to the Red Planet.
ESA dispatched the experimental paddling pool-sized probe in March to explore the planet's atmosphere and search for signs of life. Seven months and 496-million kilometers (308 million miles) later, the Schiaparelli demonstrator module along with the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), a joint project of the European Space Agency and Russia's Roscosmos, are set to reach their target destination - the Meridiani Planum in the Martian highlands - on Wednesday.
"Everything has to function to millisecond precision," ExoMars project scientist Jorge Vago said ahead of the planned landing. "And our options for intervening are precisely zero."
Data transmitted from the Red Planet takes around 10 minutes to reach Earth. This signal delay means a computer will control the landing maneuver for the 600 kilogram (1,322 pounds) high-tech machine. Should anything go wrong, the craft will be a pile of scrap metal embedded into the surface of Earth's nearest neighbor before scientists are aware of its fate.
There were nervous moments for ground controllers on Sunday when the Trace Gas Orbiter, designed to enter Mars' orbit to analyze its atmosphere for signs of life, stopped sending status updates for over an hour before coming back online.: You are not allowed to view links.
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