EU, Russia ink Mars deal

EU, Russia ink Mars deal

MOSCOW - Reuters
EU, Russia ink Mars deal

This combination image provided March 12, 2013 by NASA shows the results from the rock abrasion tool from NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity(L) and the drill from NASA's Curiosity rover(R). AFP Photo

Europe and Russia signed a deal on March 14 for a joint Mars mission to bring back samples of dirt they hope will answer the mystery of whether there is life beyond Earth.

Europe had hoped to work with NASA on the two-spacecraft mission but turned to the Russians after the U.S. agency pulled out due to budget shortfalls and a change in direction.

The announcement comes amid heightened excitement over the search for life on the planet most like Earth after scientists said analysis from NASA’s own mission rover, Curiosity, showed Mars had the right ingredients for life.

NASA wants to follow up with a duplicate rover in 2020 and bring samples home for study, but the Russian and European team hope to launch its probes in 2016 and 2018 - setting up the makings of a new post-Cold War space race for one of science’s biggest prizes.

“Establishing whether life ever existed on Mars is one of the outstanding scientific questions of our time and the highest scientific priority of the ExoMars program,” the European Space Agency (ESA) said in a statement.

Moscow will provide the rockets to launch the Exobiology on Mars, or ExoMars, mission. Russian Space Agency Roskosmos will also design the descent module and surface platform for the second leg of the venture.