Washington DC*-- Key components of a new approach to discover life on Mars were successfully launched into space Friday as part of a twelve-day, low-Earth orbit experiment to assess their survivability in the space radiation environmenta prelude future journeys to Mars.
The new approach is based on technology similar to that used in pregnancy test kits. The so-called immunoassays are embodied in the Life Marker Chip (LMC) experiment, which has the potential to detect trace levels of biomarkers in the Martian environment. Biomarkers are molecular fingerprints that indicate if life currently is, or ever was, present on Mars. The LMC experiment has been proposed for the European Space Agencys ExoMars rover mission, which is planned for launch in 2013. The LMC experiment is in the development phase and is led by an international consortium with researchers including Andrew Steele, a staff member of Carnegies Geophysical Laboratory in the United States, and scientists from the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, and Germany.
For the current mission, the consortium developed a tiny component, measuring only 1.5 inches x 1.6 inches x .5 inch ( 3.8 cm x 4.1 cm x 1.3 cm) and housing over 2000 samples, to test that the key molecular components to be used in the LMC technology can survive the rigors of space.
The experiment was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan as part of the European Space Agencys BIOPAN-6 experiment platform. The LMC components will experience both weightlessness and the harsh space radiation environment while orbiting the Earth 180 times at an altitude of up to 190 miles (308 km) during the 11.8 day mission.
The BIOPAN-6 platform is mounted on the outside of an un-manned Russian FOTON spacecraft. Once in space the BIOPAN-6 platform will open to expose its contents directly to the space environment, testing both their resistance to space radiation and the space vacuum, before closing and returning to Earth
|Contact: Andrew Steele|