Europe and Russia have launched a seven-month journey in search of life on the red planet.
The unmanned Proton rocket left the earth’s orbit on Monday morning after launching from Kazakhstan, sending the Trace Gas Orbiter to examine Mars’ atmosphere for signs of life.
The joint investigation will involve the search for natural gases that scientists believe may be a sign of human life on Mars, The Australian reported.
Researchers believe the presence of methane gas may be excreted by microbial beings on the mysterious planet, but they will also test water vapour, nitrogen oxides and acetylene.
While methane could be a sign of life – as it is on Earth – scientists are quick to point out that it can also be a by-product of cosmic dust, volcanoes or it may be seeping from the planet’s interior.
A ‘lander’ named Schiaparelli will detach from the orbiter and descend onto the planet’s surface to detect the materials – a process which will take about five years.
It’s the first of a two-phased search for life on Mars – the second is slated for 2018, when a European rover will attempt to land on the planet and drill for signs of life.
Travelling at 30,000km/h, Fairfax Media reported Monday’s orbiter will take about seven months to reach the fourth rock from the sun, which remains largely an unknown quantity to humans.
No space program has ever sent human astronauts to Mars, although NASA’s longtime program Orion has a manned-mission to Mars slated for around 2035.
The mission is predicted to take between 10 and 30 years.