Mission to search for life on Mars is being prepared
Mars is of particular interest to researchers, because it has water on it! It's frozen at Mars' poles, but it's still water. And as we have been told countless times, water means life. So, even though Mars seems like a dead rock, floating in the vastness of space, it may house at least simple single-celled organisms. But none of that can be done by gazing through a telescope. We'll have to fly up to Mars, land on it, and survey the land for life signs. Luckily, the design of a probe capable of accomplishing this mission is already constructed, and has recently received more funding in order to improve. The journey to Mars and back is a long one, and we wouldn't want the probe with data to malfunction and get lost in space, would we?
The probe is named in honor of the late Nobel laureate Harold C. Urey. After (hopefully) successfully landing, it will start taking samples of Mars' surface and will try to identify organic material (if any) in it. It will dry freeze the sample, so that any liquids would be removed, heat it up again and concentrate the organic molecules. And all this will be performed by an apparatus barely the size of a palm! The huge probe itself is needed to successfully traverse Mars' rough surface and face any other dangers. If no organic material will be found, the mission won't be a waste, as the probe will also measure the environment's ability to degrade organic compounds through oxidation. This may provide insight on why no organic material is found on Mars.
The mission is scheduled for 2013 and everything is being done for it to happen on time. Life on Mars would mean that life isn't as rare in the universe as we may think. It's like, when you're in an uninhabited island, and you find a parrot to talk to and treat as your friend. With the galaxy being millions of light years wide, simple organisms on Mars may prove to be the closest friend to us.