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Leicester's scientists set their sights on Mars


Instruments ranging from a rock-splitter to an alien life-detector could be sent on a mission to Mars.

Nasa's top Martian scientists visited the University of Leicester this week to discuss how its academics could help with future exploration.

The American space agency is aiming to send another robotic rover to Mars in seven years time, to pave the way for human expeditions.

Space scientists from the city and States are already collaborating on the Curiosity rover, which is searching for evidence of past Martian environments capable of supporting microbes.

On Tuesday, Nasa Mars programme director Jim Green and Michael Meyer, lead scientist on the Mars Exploration Programme, met Leicester academics to discuss groundbreaking space science techniques.

They include an innovative rock splitter and the Life Marker Chip, an instrument which measures molecules associated with past or present life.

The university academics also discussed methods for studying minerals on the Martian surface using X-rays and their contributions to the European Space Agency's nuclear power programme.

All are being considered for the 2020 mission.

Professor Mark Sims, professor of astrobiology and space instrumentation, said: "It was a fantastic opportunity to show Nasa the size of the Mars research programme at the university, which has expanded considerably over the past decade, and to highlight some of the techniques we are helping to develop which would produce good science on Mars.

"We hope, UK funding allowing and subject to successful bids, to continue to play major roles in future international Mars and space exploration missions."

The University of Leicester also collaborated with Nasa on the failed Beagle 2 mission.

It is part of the European Space Agency's team working on the 2016 and 2018 ExoMars missions, to search for past or present bio-signatures.

Josh Barker, from the space communication team at Leicester's National Space Centre, said: "Over the past few years, scientists from the University of Leicester have been involved in many Martian missions. This, coupled with their work on instruments from Martian satellites, current and past, has built a huge bank of expertise that Nasa may draw on as it makes plans for its rover mission in 2020."

Nasa's Mars Exploration Program is engaged in a long-term robotic exploration of the Red Planet.

It is gathering information about the challenges of future manned expeditions.

Leicester's scientists set their  sights on Mars

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