Recent interest in the astrobiological investigation of Mars has culminated in the only planned astrobiology-focussed robotic mission to Mars - the Beagle2 mission to be carried to Mars by the Mars Express spacecraft in 2003. Beagle2 will be primarily investigating the surface and near-surface environment of Mars. However, the results from the Viking Mars lander indicated that the Martian surface is saturated in peroxides and super-oxides which would rapidly degrade any organic material. Furthermore, recent models of gardening due to meteoritic impacts on the Martian surface suggest that the depth of this oxidising layer could extend to depths of 2-3m. Given that the discovery of organic fossilised residues will be the primary target for astrobiological investigation, this implies that future robotic astrobiology missions to Mars must penetrate to below these depths. The need to penetrate into the sub-surface of Mars has recently been given greater urgency with the discovery of extensive water ice-fields as little as 1m from the surface. We review the different technologies that make this penetration into the sub-surface a practical possibility on robotic missions. We further briefly present one such implementation of these technologies through the use of ground-penetrating moles - the Vanguard Mars mission proposal.

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Conference Proceedings of the Second European Workshop on Exo-Astrobiology
Ellery, A, Ball, A. (A.), Cockell, C. (C.), Coste, P. (P.), Dickensheets, D. (D.), Edwards, H. (H.), … Welch, C. (C.). (2002). Robotic astrobiology - The need for sub-surface penetration of Mars. In European Space Agency, (Special Publication) ESA SP (pp. 313–317).