Space: NASA, European scientists explore Australian Outback as testbed for Mars

Scientists from NASA’s upcoming Mars 2020 mission joined their counterparts from the joint European-Russian ExoMars mission this week in an expedition to the Australian Outback, one of the most remote, arid regions on the planet, NASA said.

According to the latest release of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), both teams came to hone their research techniques before their mission launches to Mars next summer to search for signs of past life on Mars.

The researchers know that any proof of past life on Mars will more than likely be almost microscopic in size.

“The Pilbara Outback is home to the oldest confirmed fossilized life-forms on Earth, called stromatolites,” said Ken Farley, project scientist for the Mars 2020 mission at the JPL. “If we can better understand how these fossils came to be here — and the nearby geological signposts that help point the way to them, we’ll be that much more prepared when hunting for signs of life on Mars.”

“Just as the Apollo astronauts visited areas of geologic interest on Earth before they journeyed to the Moon, the scientists of Mars 2020 and ExoMars are doing their due diligence before their missions make the 160-million-plus-kilometer trip to the Red Planet,” said Mitch Schulte, Mars 2020 program scientist at the NASA Headquarters in Washington.

The first joint science trip for the Mars 2020 and ExoMars teams concluded on Saturday. The results from this astrobiology expedition will have positive, long-lasting ramifications for humanity’s search for evidence that humans are not alone in the universe, according to the JPL.

The launch window for the Mars 2020 mission opens on July 17, 2020, with a scheduled landing at Mars’ Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021. The launch window for ExoMars opens on July 25, 2020. It will land on the Red Planet in March 2021.