Supporting Mars exploration: BIOMEX in low earth orbit and further astrobiological studies on the moon using raman and PanCam technology
The Low Earth Orbit (LEO) experiment Biology and Mars Experiment (BIOMEX) is an interdisciplinary and international space research project selected by ESA. The experiment will be accommodated on the space exposure facility EXPOSE-R2 on the International Space Station (ISS) and is foreseen to be launched in 2013. The prime objective of BIOMEX is to measure to what extent biomolecules, such as pigments and cellular components, are resistant to and able to maintain their stability under space and Mars-like conditions. The results of BIOMEX will be relevant for space proven biosignature definition and for building a biosignature data base (e.g. the proposed creation of an international Raman library). The library will be highly relevant for future space missions such as the search for life on Mars. The secondary scientific objective is to analyze to what extent terrestrial extremophiles are able to survive in space and to determine which interactions between biological samples and selected minerals (including terrestrial, Moon- and Mars analogs) can be observed under space and Mars-like conditions. In this context, the Moon will be an additional platform for performing similar experiments with negligible magnetic shielding and higher solar and galactic irradiation compared to LEO. Using the Moon as an additional astrobiological exposure platform to complement ongoing astrobiological LEO investigations could thus enhance the chances of detecting organic traces of life on Mars. We present a lunar lander mission with two related objectives: a lunar lander equipped with Raman and PanCam instruments which can analyze the lunar surface and survey an astrobiological exposure platform. This dual use of testing mission technology together with geo- and astrobiological analyses will significantly increase the science return, and support the human preparation objectives. It will provide knowledge about the Moon's surface itself and, in addition, monitor the stability of life-markers, such as cells, cell components and pigments, in an extraterrestrial environment with much closer radiation properties to the surface of Mars. The combination of a Raman data base of these data together with data from LEO and space simulation experiments, will lead to further progress on the analysis and interpretation of data that we will obtain from future Moon and Mars exploration missions.