Professor John Bridges involved in two missions to Mars

An exploratory mission to Mars which will give Space Research Centre planetary scientists vital information about potential landing sites for the upcoming ExoMars project launched from Kazakhstan today.

The European Space Agency’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 9.30am as part of a preliminary exercise to study where the future ExoMars rover, planned for 2018 or 2020, will land, as it searches for signs of microbial life.

Playing a vital part in the analysis of the incoming Martian data is space scientist Professor John Bridges from the Department of Physics and Astronomy. He is part of the CaSSIS (Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System) camera team – tasked with characterising areas associated with the emission of traces of methane gas which is a potential indicator of biological activity.

The TGO will examine three target sites:

  • Oxia Planum (clay-rich)
  • Aram Dorsum (ancient river)
  • Mawrth Vallis (clay-rich and perhaps ancient weathering)

All three Martian features are located in equatorial latitudes – a tactical decision aimed at gathering the maximum amount of energy from the Sun.

Earlier this month, NASA announced that Professor Bridges had been reselected as a participating scientist for the Curiosity Mars rover mission. He will be part of the Mars Science Laboratory Project, which built and operates the rover. Those  selected by NASA are part of a science team for the rover's 10 science instruments. Participating scientists on the mission play active roles in the day-to-day science operations of Curiosity, involving heavy interaction with rover engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. JPL manages the mission for NASA.

For more information about Curiosity, visit the website.