Of all the other planets in the solar system, Mars remains the most promising for further elucidating concepts about chemical evolution and the origin of life. Strategies were developed to pursue three exobiological objectives for Mars exploration: determining the abundance and distribution of the biogenic elements and organic compounds, detecting evidence of an ancient biota on Mars, and determining whether indigenous organisms exist anywhere on the planet. The three strategies are quite similar and, in fact, share the same sequence of phases. In the first phase, each requires global reconnaissance and remote sensing by orbiters to select sites of interest for detailed in situ analyses. In the second phase, lander missions are conducted to characterize the chemical and physical properties of the selected sites. The third phase involves conducting 'critical' experiments at sites whose properties make them particularly attractive for exobiology. These critical experiments would include, for example, identification of organics, detection of fossils, and detection of extant life. The fourth phase is the detailed analysis of samples returned from these sites in Earth-based laboratories to confirm and extend previous discoveries. Finally, in the fifth phase, human exploration is needed to establish the geological settings for the earlier findings or to discover and explore sites that are not accessible to robotic spacecraft.
Life sciences and space research 24 (4): Planetary biology and origins of life; Topical Meeting of the COSPAR Interdisciplinary Scientific Commission F (Meeting F3) of the COSPAR Plenary Meeting, 29th (ISSN 0273-1177); 15; 3; p. 151-156