European scientists are right now shooting a rocket into space from the deserts of Kazahkstan with the ambitious intention of landing it on Mars.
The ExoMars mission, a collaboration between the European Space Agency (ESA) and Russia, will send an orbiting spacecraft and rover on its journey firstthing on Monday morning. By October, seven months later, they will conduct studies to shed light on the mysterious red planet - if everything goes to plan.
If the journey is a success, the orbiter (or Trace Gas Orbiter, TGO for short, as it's known) will circle the planet 250 miles above the rocky surface for the next six or so years, where it will measure the gases such as methane, water vapour and nitrogen in the atmosphere surrounding the planet.
Ultimately, the tests will analyse the possibility of life on Mars - whether these gases exist in sufficient quantities and combinations to sustain it.
The lander part, named Schiaparelli, will split from the orbiter and head for the surface of Mars travelling at a rather fast 13,000 mph, before attempting to land. With a shorter lifespan than the orbiter, Schiaparelli will test the atmosphere of the planet for several days before its batteries run out.
The real test for Schiaparelli, however, is whether it can land safely. The last time it was attempted with Beagle 2 back in 2003, the lander was lost and that part of the mission ultimately failed.
Taking off from Baikonur, toward the south west of Kazahkstan, at 9.30am GMT but monitored from the ESA's control room in Darmstadt Germany, a successful test take off has buoyed confidence.
“Today’s rehearsal is one of the final steps in being ready to go – we do a similar dress rehearsal for every launch,” said head of mission operations Paolo Ferri on Saturday.
“It’s a milestone that caps off several years of preparation for any complex mission – designing, building and testing the ground systems, preparing the flight operations procedures and then finally an intensive period of team training.”