May 30th, 2002

Mars Express has the sophisticated science to find the water ice on Mars European Space Agency (ESA)

The presence of such a large amount of water ice under Mars’s surface is very surprising. Especially so close to the surface!” says Gerhard Schwehm, Head of the Planetary Missions Division at ESA. The team working on ESA’s Mars Express, the next mission to the Red Planet, is thrilled by NASA’s Mars Odyssey detection of hydrogen-rich layers under the Martian surface. This hydrogen indicates the presence of water ice in the top surface of the Martian soil in a large region surrounding the planet’s south pole. ESA’s Mars Express, ready for launching in June 2003, has the tools for searching much deeper below the surface, down to a few kilometres. “Mars Express will give a more global picture of where the water is and how deep,” says Patrick Martin, ESA deputy project scientist for the Mars Express mission.

April 11th, 2002

Postcards from Mars (Day 5) European Space Agency (ESA)

We have now established our normal sailing speed and life continues normally with lots of joy, discoveries and excitement. We have the pleasure to announce you the sprouting of 22 new little sprouts in the potting soil tray in our living room and their big brothers and sisters that we observed yesterday are doing fine as well (the longest is already longer than 10 mm). But it seems like their cousins that we installed in the greenhouse are not as fast: we observed only a few coming close to the surface.

April 10th, 2002

Postcards from Mars (Day 4) European Space Agency (ESA)

What an extraordinary day we had today. There was a lot of excitement this morning in our Research Station in the desert of Utah. Less than 48 hours after being planted, our seeds started to sprout! The miracle of life took place again. It is extraordinary. Of course, it happens everyday all around the world: watering a seed in the ground would eventually make it sprout. But here in our lab in this close isolated research Hab environment, it looks extraordinary. In fact, all the four kinds of seeds, the Alfalfa, the tatsoe sprouts, the arugela salad and the radishes, planted in a rock wool tray installed in the lab started to come out overnight. Nothing is visible yet from the seeds installed in potting soil trays, most probably because they are deeper in the soil. I will keep you informed of their growth. We hope to be able to eat them before the end of our rotation, in about ten days.

April 9th, 2002

Postcards from Mars (Day 3) European Space Agency (ESA)

Another great day in the Martian desert of Utah, USA. Our third day was another busy one. But first, I want to share a special moment with you. Three of my colleagues (Bill, Nancy and Andrea) are on an EVA; as I write, I am in the Hab with Jan and David. We are working on our computers, listening to an old American song (

April 8th, 2002

Postcards from Mars (Day 2) European Space Agency (ESA)

Our second day in the Mars Desert Research Station was excellent. We had a long briefing session this morning to discuss the different EVA expeditions that are planned for this week. We also decided to go for what Nancy called the Spanish schedule, that is, delaying all our external EVA activities until after four o’clock to avoid the burning afternoon sun. Actually, the temperature differences in the desert are quite marked: the highest temperature was 32 deg. C at 12:38 pm and 4 deg. C at 5:20 am. The task for the first EVA of this rotation was to set-up the station greenhouse and to plant the various seeds that we want to observe. We have four kinds of seeds: radishes, Alfa Alfa sprouts, arugella salad and tatsoe cabbage.

April 7th, 2002

Postcards from Mars (Day 1) European Space Agency (ESA)

This is our first day at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS in short). It is a fantastic place in unbelievable surroundings. The rest of the crew at the base is great. But let me start from the beginning. Arriving here was much easier than last year in the Arctic. It only took 24 hours, door-to-door. Having left Amsterdam Saturday morning, I arrived in Atlanta 9 hours later. In Atlanta I had a two-hour wait for the connection to Salt Lake City. I was picked out at random by security for a strip search (even my shoes were examined). Another 4 hours and I was at Salt Lake City where I met the rest of crew. Bill Clancey, with whom I spent one week at the Mars Station in Devon last year and who will be our Commander for these two weeks. Andrea Fori, planetary geologist from California, was with Bill to greet me at the airport. The rest of the crew was doing the last bit of shopping for the next two weeks. Nancy Wood, a biologist from Chicago, David Real, a journalist from Dallas, and Jan Osburg, an aerospace engineer from Stuttgart, Germany. Jan was actually involved in the student competition to propose alternative redesign of the ISS at the Concurrent Design Facility in ESTEC in February this year.

March 13th, 2002

Martian spots warrant a close look European Space Agency (ESA)

Are dark spots that appear near the south pole of Mars in early spring, a sign of life on the Red Planet? No-one can say for sure, according to a group of scientists who met at ESTEC, ESA’s technical centre in the Netherlands. But the spots are certainly fascinating, the meeting agreed, and well worth a detailed look by Mars Express, the European Space Agency’s Mars mission, when it goes into orbit around the Red Planet in late 2003. Agustin Chicarro, ESA project scientist for Mars Express, called the meeting after the spots began fuelling controversy here on Earth last summer. “As a geologist, I found the spots quite perplexing and very exciting. I wanted to tap a broad spectrum of expert opinion to decide whether they warrant closer examination by Mars Express,” he said.

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