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Europen and Russian Space Agencies Join Forces On Mars Missions

Mar 14, 2013 01:22 PM EDT

European and Russian space programs have planned two joint ventures to Mars by the end of the decade.

The European Space Association and Roscosmos, the Russian federal space agency, have agreed to partner on the ExoMars program and launch two missions to the red planet in 2016 and 2018.

Heads of the two space agencies met Thursday in Paris to ink the deal, which is a boon to the ExoMars project after NASA pulled out of the project last year.

The 2016 mission will search for methane and atmospheric gases that could signify active biological or geological processes and will deploy a relay device that will be used for the subsequent mission, the ESA reported.

The 2018 mission will use data from the prior mission and attempt to land a rover on Mars. The rover will search for past and present signs of life on Mars. Capable of drilling up to two meters, the rover will be able to collect samples had have been shielded form harsh surface conditions, where radiation and oxidants can destroy surface materials.

"This is a momentous occasion for the ExoMars program that will see industry and scientists from Europe and Russia working together on these two exciting missions, which will develop new technologies that will demonstrate the competitiveness of European industry, be important for preparing a solid participation of ESA in future international exploration missions and address the key question of whether life ever arose on Mars," said Jean-Jacques Dordain, director general of the ESA, in an official statement.

Roscomos chief Vladimir Popovkin said projects of such great scale require international cooperation.

"The scientific data that we are going to obtain during all the planned missions are important for the worldwide community," he said.

The ExoMars program was created in 2005; more than 400 million Euros ($520 million) has been invested into it so car.

The first launch is planned for January 2016.

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