Thee European Space Agency (ESA) launched its first interplanetary mission by launching an unmanned spacecraft atop a Russian rocket on a mission to Mars on June 1, 2003.The Mars Express spacecraft was launched by a Soyuz FG booster rocket from the Russian-operated Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and will orbit the planet for nearly two years and search for signs of life.
Several days before the spacecraft reaches Mars in December, the British-built Beagle 2 lander will separate from the vehicle and parachute down to the Martian surface on Dec. 25, 2003. The tiny lander will head to Isidis Planitia, north of the Martian equator where traces of life could have been preserved.
The lander would dig into Mars to search for organic materials and check the atmosphere for traces of methane produced by living organisms — the first such search since 1976, when twin U.S. Viking landers brought inconclusive results.
Scientists also think Mars once had plenty of water and appropriate conditions for life but lost it billions of years ago, possibly after being hit by asteroids. It is believed that water might still exist on Mars as underground ice.
Simultaneously, two Mars exploration rovers are being sent on a separate mission from the US on June 6, 2003. These rovers will spend each Martian day trekking across the planet's barren surface like robot geologists searching for life. The first rover should touch down on the planet's surface on 4 January 2004. The second is scheduled to land at another spot on Mars on 25 January 2004.