THE MISSION TO MARS
At the Russian cosmodrome of Baikonur, everything is ready for the launch of ESAÕs Mars Express probe on board of a Soyuz-Fregat launcher. The launch is planned for June 2003. The date is not a coincidence. Once every 17 years the red planet makes its closest approach to Earth. In August 2003 this will be the case again. By having the closest approach occur while Mars Express is on its journey, the spacecraft will be able to take the shortest possible route. But short remains relative. In planetary mission language, this word means about 80 million kilometres, the distance between the Earth and the Sun.
The mission's main objective is to search for sub-surface water from orbit and drop a lander called Beagle-2 on the Martian surface. Beagle-2 will take pictures of the surface around it and analyse samples of the ground. Seven scientific instruments onboard the orbiting spacecraft will perform a series of remote sensing experiments of the entire red planet, designed to