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New Mars Probe To Launch In May 2003

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British experts have put on display a robot lander that could settle one of the most pressing questions in space science today: whether life, or the potential for it, exists on Mars.

The probe, Beagle 2, will be placed aboard a European Space Agency (ESA) spacecraft, Mars Express, which is scheduled to blast off from Russia's Baikonur launchpad in Kazakhstan next May 23.

If all goes well, exactly one year from now the mother ship will drop off its tiny golden baby as it finally nears the Red Planet.

The lander will then spin gently out into space, glide through the upper layers of the thin Martian atmosphere before descending to its surface by parachute, with the final bump being softened by airbags.

Onboard is an array of instruments which, by the time Beagle 2's electrical heart expires six months later, could tell us once and for all whether water, the stuff of terrestrial life, is present on Mars.

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