ExoMars: Europe's robot explorers all set for Mars tryst

An artist's impression depicts the separation of the ExoMars 2016 entry, descent and landing demonstrator module 'Schiaparelli' from the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), heading for Mars (AFP Photo/D. Ducros)

Europe was poised Tuesday to place a paddling pool-size lander on Mars and a gas-sniffing craft in its orbit as part of a mission with Russia to scour the Red Planet for signs of life. High-stakes maneuvers Wednesday should see the Trace Gas Orbiter enter a gravity loop around our planetary neighbor, while a lander dubbed Schiaparelli makes a scorching, supersonic dash for its surface. The TGO and Schiaparelli, launched into space in March, constitute phase one of the ExoMars mission through which Europe and Russia seek to join the United States in roaming the surface of the fourth rock from the sun. While any life is unlikely to be found on the barren, radiation-blasted surface, scientists say traces of methane in Mars' atmosphere may indicate there is something underground, possibly single-celled microbes.

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