UCL News


Bridget takes her first step on road to Mars

13 May 2006

Across a volcanic landscape, a prototype British-made machine takes the first steps of what could eventually lead to a 40 million-mile journey through space.

The golf cart-sized vehicle grinds forward at a more than leisurely 0.1 mph - the equivalent of the small step it has managed since it emerged from a white Transit van - but which may one day herald a giant leap for mankind.

But for now Bridget, as she has been called, was being put through her paces on the Canary Island of Tenerife, chosen because its sun-bleached pumice gravel landscape resembles the surface of Mars.

British engineers this week carried out the first field trials of the prototype Mars rover that many space scientists believe could make the final breakthrough in the search for extraterrestrial life.

Due to launch in 2011, ExoMars will consist of an orbiter, a descent vehicle, a mobile laboratory carrying a drill to give humans their first peek below the planet's surface, and a static science base station able to lis-ten out for Marsquakes. …

Ground penetrating radar will be used to find a suitable site before a drill retrieves pristine samples from 6 ft down for onboard instruments such as spectrometers to analyse.

Professor Andrew Coates [UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory], said: "The surface of Mars is highly oxidised so it is not a good environment for life. Getting down to 6 ft below the sur-face is absolutely key to discovering whether there was ever life on the planet."

Nic Fleming, 'The Daily Telegraph'