2004 is going to be a busy time for the red planet, Mars. The crucible for Science Fiction fantasies of alien life is about to be visited by not one – but three inter-planetary probes. Two have been sent by NASA and will undertake surface studies in different regions of the planet. Named “Opportunity” and “Spirit”, these traditional rover-style vehicles will range far and wide across the rock-strewn Martian landscape gathering data about it’s geology. The European Space Agency’s probe “Beagle 2” on the other hand, will lie static on the slopes of the Isidis Planitia – a 1,500 km escarpement in the highlands of the Martian Equatorial Region – where it will gather data about the Martian atmosphere and potential for life. Mars Express was launched by the ESA on June 2nd 2003, and the orbiter carrying “The Beagle 2” will arrive at the Red Planet shortly after Christmas.
December 11th, 2003