A team of scientists, led by Dirk Schulze-Makuch of Washington State University, proposes to send a fleet of biological sensors to Mars. Called the Biological Oxidant and Life Detection, or BOLD, the mission would test for life and finally answer the question if it occurs there today.
Not since the Viking landers produced conflicting indications of biological reactions during three soil tests, has any Mars probe successfully landed with biological testing gear. A 2003 attempt by Great Britain known as the Beagle 2 lander, after Charles Darwin’s famous ship, failed to enter orbit around Mars and became ‘lost in space’. The Beagle 2 was part of the European Space Agency's Mars Express program. It was planned to have a six month mission on the planets surface to carry out its experiments. The BOLD proposal calls for a fleet of six sensor packages to land in different Martian locations. Some of the BOLD experiments would repeat Viking biological tests but with greater precision to detect potentially missed organic materials.
Beagle 2 Lander prototype
(credit: file photo)
To avoid a similar fate as Beagle 2, the BOLD mission would feature six, 130-pound, probes. Like small inverted pyramids, once on the surface, the landers would plunge a soil sampler into the ground, collect soil samples, and the instrumentation would perform biological experiments. Data would be transmitted back to an orbiter and onward to Earth.
It is high time someone took a bold approach to biological exploration on the Red Planet. The WSU approach is one any scientist, engineer, or entrepreneur should support. Let’s hope that NASA moves to rapidly facilitate their proposal and launch those probes. It would be super-cool to see some photos of Mars bugs.