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ExoMars: Mission control, we have liftoff

You could hear a pin drop as ExoMars launched on its journey to the Red Planet in search of life - the first ever mission of its kind. Jessie Wingard reports from the ESA in Darmstadt, Germany.

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ExoMars liftoff from inside ESA

My parents still talk about the day in July 1969 they sat before tiny television sets as grainy black and white pictures were beamed some 384,000 kilometers (238,855 miles) to their small country towns in rural Australia.

Those grainy pictures were Apollo 11's first manned mission to the Moon. And those men were Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz"' Aldrin.

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Buzz Aldrin performs a scientific experiment on the moon in 1969.

Moon landing, child's play

Fast forward forty-six years and space travel to the moon seems like child's play.

Standing in the European Space Agency's mission control center in Darmstadt, Germany, half a world away from Australia, I've experienced the same thrill, nervousness and excitement my parents felt seeing Neil and Buzz take their first tentative steps on the surface of the moon.

This time, though, the stakes are very different.

The European Space Agency has joined forces with the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, in a bid to answer one pertinent question:

Does life on Mars really exist?

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Life on Mars won't look like this

While scientists have determined that Martians most probably do not live on the desert-like surface of our Martian neighbor, their dream of life on the red planet still exists. Just maybe not as most imagine it.

The first phase of the

ExoMars mission

includes a lander and an orbiter. With its Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), the orbiter will "be like a big nose in space," project scientist Jorge Vago said of the seven-month mission.

The TGO mission, he added, will be to analyze Mars' atmosphere for traces of methane or other gases which could assist in sustaining life.

Earthlings set to benefit

But it's not just the scientists who will benefit from the ESA's mission to Mars - regular Earthlings will also profit from the mission and its findings, said Germany's Thomas Reiter, a former astronaut who holds the record as the longest non-American/non-Russian to live on the International Space Station, to the crowds gathered to watch the launch.

We have lift-off

Those gathered in Darmstadt's mission control center collectively held their breaths as the engines of the unmanned craft were fired and the countdown from the launch pad of the Russian-operated Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan began.

At precisely 10:31:42 (09:31 UCT), as planned, the craft, which is hoped will also bring humans a step closer to flying themselves to the red planet, began its mission

While the module is expected to reach the Red Planet in October, the first test will be to see whether the spacecraft successfully separates from the Proton rocket later on Monday night (in Germany).

Until then, it's just a waiting game.

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