The International Debate on Mars Exploration and Research

The Luleå University of Technology has hosted the International Debate on Mars Exploration and Research, organized by the Group of Atmospheric Science (GAS), and held last 14th-16th November. The meeting has gathered together thirty top representatives of international institutions, agencies and universities from all over the world to debate about Mars exploration and research, with the aim of settling the basis for the future development of the research within the field.

The attendees to the Debate on Mars Exploration and Research with GAS's members and KORE rover
Credits: Group of Atmospheric Science/LTU

We are living the golden age of Mars research and exploration. Besides the instruments already exploring Mars in-situ and from orbit around the planet, there is a good number of missions that will visit Mars during the next years: the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) of the ExoMars 2016 mission has just started its scientific operations, NASA’s InSight lander will land on Mars on November 26th and, in little more than one year, 3 rovers from NASA, ESA, and the Chinese Space Agency, as well as the orbiter mission Hope by the United Arab Emirates, will be launched to Mars.

All these missions will take a step forward in Mars exploration. There are still many unknowns regarding Mars, like the presence of methane on its atmosphere, the triggering of the formation of Recurrent Slope Lineae and gullies at present, the past and/or present existence of life on the planet…, From an strategic point of view there are many topics for open discussion, for example how to explore in preparation for the human exploration, what subjects need to be clarified about the present state of Mars and how to handle the Mars Sample Return mission.

Javier Martín-Torres, Chair of GAS, during
the opening of the Debate.
Credits: Group of Atmospheric Science/LTU

Within this scenario, and taking into account that many of the upcoming projects will require an international joint effort, the Debate on Mars Exploration and Research has been convened as a forum to discuss five hot subjects, namely, Where on Mars?, planetary protection (PP), Sample Return, Private vs Space Agencies-led Mars Exploration, and Moon and Deep Space Gateway before Mars. Along the discussions, which were highly intense and fruitful, some of the proposals focused on boosting missions for in-situ life detection, some on planning for the big facilities that are required for spacecraft sterilization prior to launch as well as those required for sample curation and manipulation back on Earth, there was also some discussion about the history of implementation of planetary protection and how to proceed now that industry is joining directly without the supervision of space national and international agencies like NASA, ESA, JAXA etc.

The conclusions of the debate will be summarized in five papers, one for each subject, that will be published in a special issue in Astrobiology Journal.

Moment of the first session of the debate and visit of the participants to the INSPIRE Lab, one of the facilities of the Group of Atmospheric Science at LTU.
Credits: Group of Atmospheric Science/LTU