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U.S. Participation in Europe's Mars Express
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Science Goal

The overall science goal of the mission is to understand the possibilities for past or present life by conducting a thorough search for liquid water, which is necessary to life as we know it. While liquid water cannot last long on the surface of Mars, some water might be trapped underground where the increase in pressure and temperature could be sufficient to keep it liquid. U.S. scientists will be working with their European colleagues to assess these possibilities.

Science Objectives

Artists impression of water on Mars
Artists impression of water on Mars courtesy of European Space Agency Web site.
The scientific objectives of the Mars Express mission also attempt to fulfill some of the lost scientific goals of the failed Russian Mars-96 mission. These objectives support the search for water by understanding what geological structures and minerals on Mars might have been formed by water, the extent of subsurface water, and what the atmosphere can tell us about the martian climate and how much water might have been lost to space in the past.

Objectives include: global surveys of the topography of the martian surface at 10-meter resolution, mineralogical mapping at 100-meter resolution, characterization of the subsurface to several kilometers depth, and analyses of atmospheric circulation, surface-atmospheric interactions, and interactions between the martian atmosphere and the space environment.

U.S. Participation

In partnership with their European colleagues, U.S. scientists are participating in the scientific instrument teams of the Mars Express mission. [More about U.S. participants on the Mission Team and Mars Express' science instruments]

A great deal of U.S. science participation will be focused on the scientific objectives of the MARSIS instrument, which is an orbital low-frequency sounding radar that provides echo profiles of the subsurface of Mars to several kilometers depth. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has been instrumental in providing radio frequency sub-systems and the sounder antenna. The specific science objectives for MARSIS are:

  • to detect, map, and characterize subsurface material discontinuities in the upper crust of Mars, including liquid water-bearing zones, icy layers, and other geologic units and structures
  • to characterize and map the elevation, roughness, and electromagnetic properties of the surface and
  • to probe the ionosphere of Mars to characterize the interaction of the atmosphere and the solar wind.
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