In December 2003 Mars Express will arrive
at Mars carrying Ferrari red paint
(c) ESA 2002

 
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One year to go until the Red Encounter
17 December 2002

The countdown to Mars Express's epic arrival at the Red Planet has started.

In around 365 days, ESA's Mars Express spacecraft will be making its momentous encounter with the Red Planet. On-board it has a little bit of Ferrari in the form of a tiny glass globe filled with the famous Ferrari red paint.

By the time the Ferrari red paint reaches the Red Planet around Christmas 2003, the Scuderia Ferrari will have completed another F1 season. However, no matter how many records the team breaks during 2003, its famous red paint will be reaching Ferrari's fastest ever speed - travelling as fast as 10 800 kilometres per hour relative to Earth.

Due to embark on its 55-million-kilometre journey in May-June 2003, Mars Express will take roughly 200 days to reach its target. Once it has arrived at its destination, Mars Express will orbit the Red Planet at a distance of around 1000 kilometres, while it sends down a small lander the size of a suitcase, called Beagle 2.

Mars Express will be searching for evidence of past, or present, life on Mars. Beagle 2 will be digging down below the surface to collect its samples for analysis on-site. Meanwhile, Mars Express will be imaging the whole planet, in full 3D colour, looking for signs of water.

Having collected its data, the orbiter will communicate its results back down to Earth via an ESA ground station near Perth in Western Australia. The data will then be processed and analysed at the European Space Operations Centre in Germany, where evidence of any startling discoveries may first be spotted.

This Christmas, Mars Express is busy getting ready for its epic journey. Next Christmas, however, we could be well on the way to getting just what we have always wanted - evidence of life on Mars.


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