France to Join U.S. In Mars Exploration Mission

France’s Research Ministry said on Tuesday it had signed a “statement of intent” with the U.S. space agency NASA for joint cooperation in its Mars exploration program. A ministry statement said details of the agreement with NASA would be made public Thursday. Industry officials told Reuters the agreement would probably name the European Ariane 5 rocket as the launch vehicle for a Mars mission in late 2003 or early 2004 to dig up Martian soil to test for organic or other life-related chemical compounds.