|Russian and Europe Space Agencies Launch Mission to Mars|
Europe and Russia launched a joint mission on Monday to explore the atmosphere of Mars and hunt for signs of life on the red planet.
The ExoMars probe - a collaboration between the European Space Agency and Roscosmos, took off from a base in Kazakhstan aboard a Russian rocket.
Trace Gas Orbiter probe will analyze the methane and other gases in the Martian atmosphere to determine where they come from, said Paolo Ferri, Head of ESA's mission operations.
Methane is created by biological or geological activity and jumps down in a relatively short time when it reaches the atmosphere.
"It can not be longer than 400 years. This means there was a geological or biological activity within this period," Ferri said. "Four hundred years is nothing. If methane that means it is basically a process going on now. "
The prospect of finding life on Mars - even microscopic organisms - has excited scientists for some time, but so far none has been discovered.
"The fact that they have not found life certainly does not mean that there is no life there," said Ferri, noting that much of the vast surface of the planet has not been examined.
This task will be for an ESA rover wants to send to Mars in 2018. Until then, the orbiter will have had time to find a good landing spot and perform a functional test using a lander called trial that Schiaparelli is already on board of the probe.
If life is discovered, there is the question of whether future manned missions to the planet must be tried, said Mark McCaughrean, Senior Scientific Advisor to ESA.
"Strangely, if we find life on Mars is actually really raises the question whether we should go all out with human beings because of the idea of planetary protection," he told mission control at ESA in Darmstadt . "We would take us bugs and so now these bugs meet Martian bugs, which could be a disaster. "
Landing a spacecraft on Mars is notoriously difficult and several attempts in the past have failed, including the Beagle 2 probe was part of ESA's Mars Express mission in 2003. Beagle 2 disappeared during the process landing, a setback, the Agency wants to avoid this time, hence the decision to separate the mission of the orbiter from the real landing attempt.
"It was very clear that the two things in a single mission drives up complexity, setting," said Ferri.
ExoMars, which cost the European Space Agency only 1.3 billion euros ($ 1.44 billion), is the first interplanetary mission led jointly by ESA and Roscomsos.
The orbiter also a radio NASA-built edge that helps relay signals from other probes Mars.