The latest probe to search for Martian bacteria and poke around building sandcastles in the rocks seems to have failed in the very final seconds, with the planetside landing element of the ExoMars mission ceasing to respond as it neared the surface of Mars.
The European Space Agency said this morning that the Schiaparelli lander went silent around 50 seconds from its scheduled touchdown, which hints at a problem with the parachute and booster system that had the unenviable job of slowing the module from a speed of around 13,000mph to a halt atop the red rocks.
ESA and partner Roscosmos stress that this landing was only a test ahead of a possible rover mission in the early 2020s, so it's not utterly bereft about the failure -- although it's a bit embarrassing what with all the US rovers that have successfully made it over the years.
The good news for EU's joint mission to see if anything is or was alive on the planet is that the orbital component, the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, made it to its proper orbit, which means it can sit there sniffing out for any traces of methane -- the most obvious sign that anything may be living and happily farting away down there. [New Scientist]