This is a picture by an artist of the Mars Express spacecraft flying towards Mars.
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Image courtesy European Space Agency (ESA) - Illustration by Medialab

Overview of the Mars Express Mission

The European Space Agency (ESA) launched a mission to Mars in June of 2003. The mission is called "Mars Express". The Mars Express spacecraft has two parts. One part will orbit Mars for at least one Martian year. A year on Mars lasts 687 Earth days, so it is longer than a year on Earth. The second part of Mars Express is a lander named "Beagle 2". Beagle 2 is supposed to land on Mars on Christmas day in 2003.

Mars Express is looking for life on Mars. Scientists don't know whether Mars has life or not. If Mars does have life, it is probably some kind of microbe that lives in water. So scientists are looking for water on Mars. Mars doesn't have any lakes, rivers, or seas. But Mars might have water underground. Mars Express has a radar that can look through rocks. Scientists hope to find water underground with that radar.

The Beagle 2 lander will look for life on the surface of Mars. It has a robot arm that will scoop up dirt. It will check the dirt for chemicals that might have been made by living things. Beagle 2 will land in a flat area called "Isidis Planitia" that is inside an old crater. There may have been a lake inside the crater many years ago.

Beagle 2 is named after a famous ship called the H.M.S. Beagle. A scientist named Charles Darwin sailed on the H.M.S. Beagle about 170 years ago. Darwin helped invent a theory called evolution that explains a lot about how life works. Scientists hope to find out a lot about life if they discover life on Mars. So the Mars Express team named their lander Beagle 2 in honor of Darwin's ship.

Last modified December 29, 2003 by Randy Russell.

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