News, Announcements & Press Releases

23. November 2015 14:30

Mars Exploration Starts on Earth

MASE Project Press Conference – 25 November 2015, DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine, Köln, Germany -



Recent missions to Mars have shown that the planet was once much more conducive to life than present-day Mars. A key challenge is to find out whether the planet even supported life and whether we can find evidence of it on the planet.

On the 23rd and 24th of November 2015, the MASE (Mars Analogues for Space Exploration – project team will meet at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) in Köln to discuss and consider the current and planned project investigations towards better understanding Mars habitability and the potential for life on our closest neighbour.

At a time when the knowledge of Mars environment is constantly evolving and significant discoveries on its habitability are being made, leading European experts in astrobiology (the discipline looking at the search for life beyond the Earth) actively involved in the MASE project will hold a press conference on 25 November 2015. This event will allow presenting the state of the art on the knowledge of Mars cold and oxygen-free environments and how some locations on Earth can be analogous to these remote environments. It will also cover the potential for past and current life on Mars and how the study of the organisms, biosignatures, fossils and ecosystems of Earth Martian analogues allows to be better prepared for exploration missions and the search for (signs of) life on Mars.

The press conference organised by the MASE project will also allow to cast light on research facilities allowing to simulate environmental conditions present on Mars and to expose Earth organisms to these conditions in order to investigate their reaction and adaptation.

Part of the press conference will be webcasted (


MASE is supported by European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under Grant Agreement n° 607297.


Note to editors:

MASE contacts:

For press conference issues please contact:
Nicolas Walter, European Science Foundation, nwalter[at]
Michel Winand M. A., DLR, Phone +49 2203 601 2144, michel.winand[at]

For MASE project information please contact:
Prof. Charles Cockell – Scientific Coordinator, University of Edinburgh: c.s.cockell[at]
Mr. Nicolas Walter – Administrative Coordinator, European Science Foundation: nwalter[at] 


About MASE (Mars Analogues for Space Exploration)

Assessing the habitability of Mars and detecting life, if it was ever there, depends on knowledge of whether the combined environmental stresses experienced on Mars are compatible with life and whether a record of that life could ever be detected. However, our current ability to make these assessments is hampered by a lack of knowledge of how the combined effect of different environmental stresses influence the survival and growth of organisms. In particular, many combinations of stress have not been investigated. Furthermore, a lack of experimental studies on how anaerobic microorganisms respond to such stresses undermine our knowledge of Mars as a location for life since the planet is essentially anoxic. Even if life can be shown to be potentially supported on Mars, there exist no systematic studies of how organisms would be preserved.

Through sampling of analogue sites, studying and stressing anaerobic organisms as well as mimicking the natural fossilisation process, the MASE project addresses these limitations in knowledge and advance our ability to assess the habitability of Mars and detect life. MASE is a collaborative research project supported for four years (2014-2017) by the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) of the European Community for research, technological development and demonstration activities.


MASE Partners

  • The University of Edinburgh, UK: Prof. Charles Cockell – Scientific Coordinator
  • The German Aerospace Center (DLR), Germany: Dr. Petra Rettberg
  • Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Spain : Prof. Ricardo Amils
  • MATĺS ltd., Iceland: Dr. Viggo Thór Marteinsson
  • Leiden Institute of Chemistry, The Netherlands: Prof. Pascale Ehrenfreund
  • Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial - Centro de Astrobiolgía (INTA-CAB), Spain: Dr. Felipe Gomez GomezMedical University of Graz, Austria: Dr. Christine Moissl-Eichinger
  • Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), France: Dr Frances Westall
  • NERC British Antarctic Survey, UK: Dr. Kevin Newsham
  • European Astrobiology Network Association (EANA), France: Dr. Frances Westall
  • European Science Foundation, France: Mr. Nicolas Walter – Administrative Coordinator


About DLR

The German Aerospace Center DLR is Germany's national research center for aeronautics and space. Its research and development work in aeronautics, space, transportation, energy, defence and security research is integrated into national and international cooperative ventures. As Germany's Space Agency, the German federal government has given DLR responsibility for the planning and implementation of the German space programme as well as international representation of Germany's interests. DLR's mission comprises (i) exploration of the Earth and the solar system, (ii) research aimed at protecting the environment, (iii) development of environmentally-friendly technologies to promote mobility, communication and security.

Within the DLR the Institute of Aerospace Medicine is the only research institution that primarily deals with life science problems concerning space flight, aviation and traffic. Its astrobiology group focuses in the investigation of the molecular and cellular mechanisms for the adaptation to ‘extreme’ environmental conditions in laboratory and space experiments, on the analysis of the capability to repair different kinds of damage in several microbial model organisms, on exploration of the habitability of Mars by performing investigations concerning the toxicity of the Martian surface and biological tests under simulated Martian conditions and by investigating the microbial bioburden and biodiversity on spacecraft for development of planetary protection measures on behalf of ESA. Besides laboratory experiments astrobiological space experiments on satellites and on the ISS are performed in addition to participation in experiments.