Dr Lewis Dartnell: Mars mission searchs for the building blocks of life
THE successful landing of the largest robotic mission to Mars is a phenomenal engineering achievement.
Curiosity was delivered to the Gale Crater. Here, the existence of clays provides evidence of past water. How wet the environment was and for how long is one of the key questions to be answered by this mission. This will indicate how likely it is that there was once life on Mars.
Over the next few months, Curiosity will gather and analyse rock and soil samples, looking for organic molecules, such as sugars or amino acids. These chemicals are the building blocks of life.
The set-up will not be able to determine whether detected organics are the remnants of past life. That will be the focus of a European Science Agency mission in 2018.
While putting a man on the Moon remains the most significant achievement of space programmes, the successful start of the Curiosity mission is the next stepping stone in our understanding of other planets and the origins of life.
Look out for headlines in the next few months announcing the discovery of the building blocks of life on Mars.
• Dr Lewis Dartnell is a research fellow in astrobiology at University College London.
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