European meeting in Athens fuels future space exploration missions to Mars, Moon

May 31, 2007

A European Science Foundation (ESF)-led workshop sponsored by the European Space Agency (ESA) has enabled 88 scientists from 11 European countries to agree on science goals for future Europe's planetary exploration programme; providing the continent with an ambitious roadmap to examine Mars and the Moon.

The meeting, which was held on 15-16 May 2007 in Athens, defined the science rationale of this programme, dubbed "Emergence and co-evolution of life with its planetary environments."

The scientists identified three target bodies to be visited by a number of international missions in the timeframe 2013-2035: the planet Mars, the Moon, and Near-Earth Objects, which are asteroids orbiting the Sun within reach of the Earth. The planet Mars qualifies as a place where life may have evolved in the past and is thus a good candidate for missions searching for signs of extinct, or even extant, life.

The exploration programme, also known as "Aurora" in early versions of this ambitious plan, will focus on planetary bodies that can ultimately be reached by humans, although the first steps of the 30-year programme can only be robotic. An ultimate goal is for European astronauts to participate in the first international mission that will land humans on the planet Mars. In their recommendations to ESA the Athens workshop participants indicated that Mars should be the focus of the European
exploration endeavour, with a driving set of missions called "Mars Sample Return", a set of robotic missions aimed at returning pieces of Martian surface and sub-surface for detailed analysis on Earth.

Although Mars Sample Return can realistically only be an international cooperative mission it was stressed that Europe should remain a major actor in its definition, taking bold initiatives to develop, and improve upon, key technologies relevant to planetary exploration, such as deep drilling techniques, radio-isotopic devices to produce energy on the Martian surface, or the development of a European facility for receiving
and analysing extraterrestrial samples.

Research on humans in space environment which are currently carried out on Earth or in the International Space Station must be strengthened. Beyond these activities, opportunities to further that necessary research portfolio may arise in the context of an international lunar exploration programme. The workshop participants indeed agreed that the Moon should be used as a component of a robust European exploration
programme.

Finally the Athens workshop participants emphasised that international cooperation among space agencies engaged in planetary exploration should be a major feature of this programme, materialised by concrete joint ventures between the relevant partners, i.e. Europe, U.S., Russia, Japan, China and India.

Source: ESA

Explore further: Astronaut meets volcano

Related Stories

Astronaut meets volcano

November 14, 2017

An expedition of astronauts, planetary scientists and engineers is off to Spain's Canary Island of Lanzarote to learn best how to explore uncharted planets. The training will equip space travellers with a geologist's eye. 

Recommended for you

Solar minimum surprisingly constant

November 17, 2017

Using more than a half-century of observations, Japanese astronomers have discovered that the microwaves coming from the sun at the minimums of the past five solar cycles have been the same each time, despite large differences ...

SpaceX poised to launch secretive Zuma mission

November 16, 2017

SpaceX is poised to launch on Thursday a secretive payload known as Zuma for the US government, though the nature of the mission and the agency behind it remain a mystery.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.