Mars mission team unveils a new recruit: robot Bridget
SCIENTISTS yesterday unveiled a robotic rover vehicle nicknamed Bridget that will be the centrepiece of the most advanced attempt to find life on Mars.
The 10ft by 6ft, six-wheeled vehicle, called an "autonomous robotic scientist", will be able to patrol the surface of Mars carrying sophisticated equipment and panoramic cameras, enabling it to operate without the need for detailed supervision from ground control.
The prototype of the 100 million Mars Rover was unveiled in London as scientists revealed details of the European space agency's ExoMars mission, set for launch in 2011.
Bridget, which will carry technology developed at Aberdeen University, will be able to travel several miles across the surface of the red planet and will drill under the surface to look for signs of life.
The project has received 1.7 million from the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council to enable UK scientists and engineers to develop key features of the mission.
The announcement of the new ExoMars mission comes after the ill-fated Beagle 2, UK-led attempt in 2003, and the European Space Agency's Huygens mission to the Martian moon Titan, which hit its target in January this year.
The UK has pledged just over 73 million to the Aurora programme of planetary exploration, of which ExoMars is one part, including more than 69 million to ExoMars.
Professor John Zanecki, of the Open University, who worked on the Huygens project, said that the lessons learned during the Beagle 2 mission would also be important.
Speaking at the ExoMars launch, he said his dream was that the mission would provide "incontrovertible evidence of life on Mars".
He said: "I would like to find absolutely definite evidence of microbiological life existing today below the surface of Mars. That would answer the question, 'Are we alone?'"
One of the key pieces of technology for the new mission is a life marker chip, described as a 'pregnancy test for planets' by its developer, Professor John Parnell, of Aberdeen University.
The chip will look for evidence of amino acids, cell membranes, pigments and other signs of life.
Prof Zanecki said: "There is ice below the surface, so there could be sources of heat and there could potentially be life. It is the perennial question when it comes to Mars - was there life, or could there be life there now?"
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