Planetary scientists have learned much about Mars from the various robotic missions that have landed on the Martian surface. However, rovers and landers can only carry a limited set of instruments and there are many things yet to be learned about Mars – like whether or not life was ever present – that can only be determined using instruments that are found in laboratories on Earth. The next major step in the exploration of Mars is the return of samples from the Martian surface back to Earth. 

Now through November 18, Western University and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) are simulating this experience through a science-driven investigation – the CanMars 2016 Mars Sample Return Analogue Mission. 

Students and researchers from Western and other Canadian universities will work with experts from the CSA and other space agencies, as well as the Canadian space industry, to direct a rover from a Mission Control facility at Western, as it explores and caches samples in a Mars-like landscape in Utah. This is the second phase of a high-fidelity Mars mission simulation that started in November 2015 (

The purpose of this mission simulation is to help the CSA and global partners develop and test protocols for sample collection on Mars and analysis approaches back on Earth. Planetary surface operational requirements for science instruments, science support equipment, and mission platforms will be tested in a realistic scenario. Samples will subsequently be analyzed by two Canadian teams – one led by Western and the other by McGill University – to determine the level of success achieved by the Mission Control team in selecting samples representative of past environments, and whether the samples provide evidence of past water, or past life. 

Media Day is scheduled for Wednesday, November 2 from 9 to 10:30 a.m. in Western’s Physics and Astronomy Building, Room 100. Mission lead, NSERC/MDA/CSA Industrial Research Chair in Planetary Geology Gordon Osinski, as well as representatives from CSA and the NASA-Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), will be in attendance and available for interviews.

The CanMars Public Event Night is scheduled for Thursday, November 10 from 7 to 9 p.m. in Western’s Physics and Astronomy Building Atrium. Visitors will have the opportunity to tour mission control and take a look at various instrumentation being used in the simulation. There will also be an expert panel discussion and a number of youth outreach activities. 

Through a Western-led Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) grant funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Osinski and his colleagues across the nation are training the next generation of science explorers to increase Canada’s readiness to support such missions.

MEDIA CONTACT: Jeff Renaud, Senior Media Relations Officer, 519-661-2111, ext. 85165,, @jeffrenaud99


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