Engineering the Science to Affordably Investigate Life on Mars
Is there life on Mars?
We don’t know, but we do know that Mars has all the elements required for life, and that all the geophysical and geochemical evidence suggests that Mars could have supported life — and may still. Explore Mars, Inc. has a new mission concept designed to answer that question. It is called ExoLance, and it is engineered to look below the surface of Mars for current microbial life.
Why is this mission needed?
Over the past few decades, missions have been sent to Mars by space programs from around the world. Some are orbiters, some are landers, and some are rovers. From the findings of those missions, an intriguing body of evidence has been building indicating that if microbial life presently exists, it exists below the surface of Mars. While current NASA missions are looking for evidence of past life, no NASA mission is planned to look for current life. We believe this is a mistake. To find life on Mars, we actually need to look for life on Mars.
Explore Mars has devised a simple system capable of being delivered to the Martian surface to detect microorganisms living on or under the surface. ExoLance leverages a delivery system that was originally designed for military purposes. As each small, lightweight penetrator probe (“arrow”) impacts the surface, it leaves behind a radio transmitter at the surface to communicate with an orbiter, and then kinetically burrows to emplace a life-detection experiment one to two meters below the surface. ExoLance combines the experiments of the 1970s Viking landers and the Curiosity rover with bunker-busting weapons technology.
The system involves a metabolic test that clearly distinguishes non-living chemistry from the chemistry produced by the metabolism of living microorganisms . What makes this experiment even more intriguing is that if it detects life, it may also be able to determine whether that life is related to life on Earth or is a new strain of life – a separate “genesis.”