BOLD Space Probe Would Search for Mars Life

The Biological Oxidant and Life Detection mission, or BOLD, would send six small spacecraft

to Mars to seek out extinct or extant life in the planet’s red dirt. As said researchers the mission, if it’s ever approved, might be ready to go by 2018 and would likely cost less than $300 million. If BOLD gets off the ground, it would be the first dedicated life-detection mission to Mars since NASA’s twin Viking landers blasted off in 1975, ultimately returning inconclusive results. BOLD would employ six identical penetrator probes, 130-pound (60-kilogram) pyramid-shaped spacecraft that would punch into the Martian dirt pointy-end first at six different spots around the planet. The landing locations would be determined later, if the mission gets off the drawing board. Researchers don’t expect all six spacecraft to survive the parachute-slowed impact intact, the redundancy is a way to hedge their bets. The probes would reach 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters) into the soil, deep enough to access potentially life-friendly environments. Each penetrator would conduct a half dozen experiments with the subsurface dirt. One instrument, for example, would search for long, complex molecules similar to nucleic acids such as DNA. Another would attempt to stain living Martian cells with flourescent dyes. The penetrators would also perform a repeat of Viking’s famous “labeled release” experiment, which provided “food” to possible Martian microbes and looked for gaseous signs of metabolic use. The penetrators would also measure soil pH, inorganic ions and other characteristics that could help identify the dirt’s concentration of hydrogen peroxide. As said researchers if Mars microbes exist, they could be using a water-hydrogen peroxide solution as their internal solvent. The six probes would also carry a microscopic imager to look for cells and tiny fossils.