NASA, ESA will search for 'signs of life' on Mars

NASA's Mars Perseverance rover acquired this image in 2021. NASA and the European Space Agency announced plans Thursday to search for signs of life on Mars. Photo by NASA/UPI

May 16 (UPI) -- NASA and the European Space Agency will search together for signs of life on Mars, the U.S. space administration announced Thursday.

They will collaborate on the ExoMars Rosalind Franklin rover, an ESA-led mission that will launch in 2028 to explore Mars. Under terms of the deal, NASA will provide special heaters and unique parts of the rover propulsion system that are required to land on Mars.

The rover will be the first to drill to a depth of up to 6.5 feet below the surface to collect ice samples that have been protected from surface radiation and extreme temperatures, NASA said.

"The Rosalind Franklin rover's unique drilling capabilities and onboard samples laboratory have outstanding scientific value for humanity's search for evidence of past life on Mars," said Nicola Fox, associate administrator, Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

"NASA supports the Rosalind Franklin mission to continue the strong partnership between the United States and Europe to explore the unknown in our solar system and beyond."

NASA is also using key German and French technology and experience to contribute to the rover's primary science instrument, the Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer, which will be at the heart of the search for the building blocks of life in Martian soil samples.

NASA and space scientists worldwide have been investing in Mars research and continue to examine data collected be missions to the Red planet, which have, until now, been carried out with no human stepping foot on the Martian surface.

"Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun, and the seventh largest. It's the only planet we know of inhabited entirely by robots," NASA said on its website devoted to this mission.

NASA has been working with the ESA on a series of future missions that would return Martian soil samples to Earth, a project NASA calls its "most ambitious, multi-mission" campaign to date. The project price tag has spiked from $5 billion to more than $11 billion.