News Release

Life on Mars 'pregnancy test' successfully launched

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Carnegie Institution for Science

Washington DC*-- Key components of a new approach to discover life on Mars were successfully launched into space Friday as part of a twelve-day, low-Earth orbit experiment to assess their survivability in the space radiation environment—a prelude future journeys to Mars.

The new approach is based on technology similar to that used in pregnancy test kits. The so-called immunoassays are embodied in the “Life Marker Chip” (LMC) experiment, which has the potential to detect trace levels of biomarkers in the Martian environment. Biomarkers are molecular fingerprints that indicate if life currently is, or ever was, present on Mars. The LMC experiment has been proposed for the European Space Agency’s ExoMars rover mission, which is planned for launch in 2013. The LMC experiment is in the development phase and is led by an international consortium with researchers including Andrew Steele, a staff member of Carnegie’s Geophysical Laboratory in the United States, and scientists from the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, and Germany.

For the current mission, the consortium developed a tiny component, measuring only 1.5 inches x 1.6 inches x .5 inch ( 3.8 cm x 4.1 cm x 1.3 cm) and housing over 2000 samples, to test that the key molecular components to be used in the LMC technology can survive the rigors of space.

The experiment was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan as part of the European Space Agency’s BIOPAN-6 experiment platform. The LMC components will experience both weightlessness and the harsh space radiation environment while orbiting the Earth 180 times at an altitude of up to 190 miles (308 km) during the 11.8 day mission.

The BIOPAN-6 platform is mounted on the outside of an un-manned Russian FOTON spacecraft. Once in space the BIOPAN-6 platform will open to expose its contents directly to the space environment, testing both their resistance to space radiation and the space vacuum, before closing and returning to Earth on September 25th. The LMC components will then be taken back to laboratories in the United Kingdom and the United States to analyze the effect of the space flight.

The lead members of the consortium involved in the current mission are Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR) (Germany), Cranfield University (UK), Carnegie Institution of Washington (USA) and University of Leicester (UK).

Dr. Andrew Steele from the Carnegie Institution of Washington (USA) and one of the initial experiment proposers said, “in the USA we are currently flying related technology and components within the protected environment of the International Space Station (ISS) but this will be the first time that these types of materials will have flown unprotected in space in a manner similar to a flight to Mars.”

Dr. Lutz Richter of DLR (Germany) and the principal investigator for the current experiment said, “This experiment is the culmination of a number of years of hard work and ground based tests to prove the viability of the LMC technology.”

Dr. David Cullen, from Cranfield University (UK) and who leads the scientific input into the current experiment, said, “this will be our first space experiment to demonstrate our belief that immunoassay technology will have an important future role in space exploration and the search for life elsewhere in the Solar System.”

Dr. Mark Sims from the University of Leicester (UK) and who heads the overall LMC project said, “this mission will be an important stepping stone in our ultimate goal of putting a LMC experiment on the surface of Mars and using it to search for evidence of Life.”


A number of other people, organizations and companies have contributed to the experiment and these include Haptogen Ltd. (Aberdeen, UK), Oklahoma State University (USA), LioniX BV (Enschede, NL), Technische Universität München (Germany) and Dr Jan Toporski, formally of Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel (Germany).

*This release was adapted from a release by Cranfield Health, Cranfield University, Silsoe, Bedfordshire MK45 4DT, United Kingdom.

The Carnegie Institution of Washington, a private nonprofit organization, has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research since 1902. It has six research departments: the Geophysical Laboratory and the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, both located in Washington, D.C.; The Observatories, in Pasadena, California, and Chile; the Department of Plant Biology and the Department of Global Ecology, in Stanford, California; and the Department of Embryology, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Additional contacts:

Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR)
Dr. Lutz Richter (project contact)
+44 (0) 1525 86 3538 / 9 (office)
+44 (0) 775 436 3467 (mobile)
DLR Institute of Space Simulation, Linder Hoehe, D-51170 Cologne, Germany

Cranfield University
Cranfield University is one of Western Europe’s largest academic centres for strategic and applied research, development and design. It is unique in its entirely postgraduate focus. The university is made up of three campuses at Cranfield, Silsoe and Shrivenham and which house Cranfield School of Management, School of Applied Sciences, School of Engineering, Cranfield Health and The Defence College of Management and Technology. For further details see
Dr. David C. Cullen (science contact)
+44 (0) 1525 86 3538 / 9 (office)
+44 (0) 775 436 3467 (mobile)
Cranfield Health, Cranfield University, Silsoe, Bedfordshire MK45 4DT, United Kingdom

Carnegie Institution of Washington
Dr. Andrew Steele
+1 202 478 8974 (office)
+1 202 478 8900 (department)
Carnegie Institution of Washington, Geophysical Laboratory, 5251 Broad Branch Rd., N.W, Washington, DC 20015, USA

University of Leicester
Dr. Mark R. Sims
+44 (0) 116 252 3513 (office)
+44 (0) 7801 858920 (mobile)
Space Research Centre, Michael Atiyah Building, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leicester, Leicester LE1 7RH, United Kingdom

Further details of the FOTON-M3 mission that incorporates the BIOPAN-6 platform can be found at the European Space Agency’s website - and especially

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