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This is a picture by an artist of the Mars Express spacecraft flying towards Mars.
Click on image for full size
Image courtesy European Space Agency (ESA) - Illustration by Medialab

Overview of the Mars Express Mission

The European Space Agency (ESA) launched a mission to Mars called "Mars Express" in June of 2003. The Mars Express spacecraft has two parts: an orbiter that will circle the Red Planet for at least one Martian year (687 Earth days), and a lander named "Beagle 2" which is scheduled to touch down on the surface of the Mars on December 25, 2003.

Scientists are searching for water on Mars because they think that if they find water that would be the best place to look for life. Mars Express has a radar that can look through rock. Scientists hope to find water underground on Mars using the Mars Express' radar. The spacecraft will also take pictures of Mars and study the Martian atmosphere.

The Beagle 2 lander will try to find life on the surface of Mars. It has a robotic arm that will scoop up soil. It will find out what kinds of chemicals are in the soil. Some types of chemicals are mostly made by living creatures. If Beagle 2 finds those types of chemicals it will have strong evidence that it might have found life. Beagle 2 will land in a flat area called "Isidis Planitia" that is inside an old crater. There may have been a lake inside the crater many years ago.

Beagle 2 is named after a famous ship, the H.M.S. Beagle. A scientist named Charles Darwin sailed on the H.M.S. Beagle in the mid-1800s. Darwin was one of the first scientists to explain how evolution works. The theory of evolution is very important in the science of biology. If scientists find life on Mars with the Beagle 2, that would be a very important discovery for the science of biology, too. That is why the Mars Express mission planners decided to name their lander after Darwin's ship.

Last modified December 29, 2003 by Randy Russell.

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