Press Release


Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS)
Mars Analogue for Space Exploration (MASE) Project
Wednesday 29th March 2017 (09:30 – 12:00)
CNRS - Centre de Biophysique Moléculaire, Orléans, France.


The CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique) will organise a press conference and visit on 29th of March at the Centre de Biophysique Moléculaire (CBM) at Orléans. 

This press conference will be held the day after a scientific meeting of the FP7 MASE project (Mars Analogue for Space Exploration), being held in France for the first time.

The MASE project gathers European scientists from different countries who study the possibility to detect present / past life on Mars.

This press conference offers the opportunity for a briefing on:

  • Current progress assessing the habitability of Mars and detecting life.
  • Identifying the landing site for the Exomars Mission launching in July 2020.
  • Using microfossil analysis to detect past signatures for Martian life.

This press conference will also cast light on research facilities studying signatures of life in other planets to maximise the scientific output of future space exploration missions.

  • Visit to International Space Analogue Rockstore with rocks of billions of years in age.
  • Visit to the analytical platform for Raman Spectroscopy and Atomic Force Microscopy.


    Members of the Media are invited to attend this Visit and Conference:


      To register, please contact: Florence Royer (+33) 02 38 25 79 86 florence.royer[at]dr8.cnrs[dot]fr

        Members of the media are also welcome to contact the relevant scientists and researchers working on these projects and their contact details are below.

          For press conference issues please contact:

          Florence Royer – Press Conference Room CNRS: florence.ROYER[at]dr8.cnrs[dot]fr 

          Dr. Patricia Cabezas – Administrative Coordinator, European Science Foundation: pcabezas[at]esf[dot]org  

          Mr. Nicolas Walter – Administrative Coordinator, European Science Foundation: nwalter[at]esf[dot]org  

          For MASE project information please contact:

          Prof. Charles Cockell – Scientific Coordinator, University of Edinburgh: c.s.cockell[at][dot]uk 

          Dr. Patricia Cabezas – Administrative Coordinator, European Science Foundation: pcabezas[at]esf[dot]org  

          Mr. Nicolas Walter – Administrative Coordinator, European Science Foundation: nwalter[at]esf[dot]org  


          Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique
          Mars Analogue for Space Exploration (MASE) Project

          Press conference and visit
          ednesday 29th March 2017 – 9h30

          Centre de Biophysique Moléculaire - CBM (CNRS)
          Entrée principale du campus CNRS – 3E Avenue de la Recherche Scientifique
          45100 ORLEANS-LA SOURCE

          About MASE (Mars Analogues for Space Exploration)
          Speaker: Dr. Frances Westall

          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 effects 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 advances our ability to assess the habitability of Mars and detect life. 

          Within MASE, CNRS is responsible of all the fossilisation aspects and notably with the comparison of artificial and natural microfossils. These results will be essential for aiding the in situ search for traces of life on another planetary body, e.g. Mars. MASE is supported by The European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under Grant Agreement n° 607297.

          What landing site for Exomars 2020?
          Speaker: Dr. Frances Westall

          The Exomars 2020 mission will be launched in July 2020. In parallel to the MASE scientific meeting taking place in Orléans, two potential landing sites will be selected on 28th of March in a meeting at the European Space Agency (ESA), and the final site selection will be decided just before the launch. Dr. Frances Westall is part of the ESA Committee for Exomars landing site selection.

          Looking for past life on Earth and on Mars: Why microfossils are so important?
          Speaker: Dr. Frances Westall

          Very early in its history, Mars encountered major changes in environmental conditions, with critical issues for potential life forms and their evolution. However, life on Earth very probably had similar properties to what could be expected on Mars. Studying the earliest forms of life contained in rocks informs about both the emergence of life on Earth and also on the possibility to detect past signatures for Martian life.

          9h 45
          Questions / Answers with Dr. Frances Westall, Dr. Frédéric Foucher and Dr. Frédéric Gaboyer

          10h 30
          Visit to the “lithotheque” ISAR (International Space Analogue Rockstore)
          Speaker: Dr. Frédéric Foucher

          This library hosts rocks as old as billions of years and that are analogous to the oldest Martian rocks. It is unique in the world and also responds to an increasing need for scientists to test and optimize the analytical tools that will be assembled on planetary rovers in future space exploration missions.

          11h 15
          Presentation of studied samples and visit to the analytical platform of Raman spectroscopy and Atomic Force Microscopy

          MASE Partners

          • The University of Edinburgh, UK: Prof. Charles Cockell – Scientific Coordinator
          • The German Aerospace Centre (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 Gómez Gómez
          • Medical University of Graz, Austria: Dr. Christine Moissl-Eichinger
          • Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), France: Dr Frances Westall
          • European Science Foundation, France: Dr. Patricia Cabezas and Mr. Nicolas Walter – Administrative Coordinators
          • European Astrobiology Network Association (EANA), France: Dr. Frances Westall 

          About CNRS and the Exobiology Team

            The Centre for Molecular Biophysics CMB is a CNRS laboratory (Unité Propre de Recherche) funded and managed by the CNRS and affiliated with the University of Orléans. The Centre was founded in 1967 to foster interdisciplinary collaboration between physicists, chemists and biologists. Our research focuses on the understanding of the role and the mechanisms of action of biomacromolecules.  

              At the interface between physics, chemistry and biology, the research at the CBM are investigating the structure, dynamics and interactions of biomacromolecules from the atomic level to the cell and organism. This approach entails searching for the molecular causes of biological dysfunctions which trigger the development of diseases. The centre is also recognised for its research in biomedical imaging.

                The research activities are organised in 4 teams:

                  - Molecular, Structural and Chemical biology
                  - Cell biology, Molecular targets and Innovative therapies
                  - Chemistry, Imaging and Exobiology
                  - Theoretical and Computational Biophysics 

                    The Exobiology team of the Centre de Biophysique Moléculaire of Orléans studies artificial fossils obtained after microbial mineralisation of relevant strains, the so called “extremophilic” microorganisms, surviving to Martian conditions in silica and in gypsum. 

                      Members of the team characterise these fossils from microbiological, spectroscopic, biochemical and microscopic points of view. Scientists can also mimic an artificial ageing of mineralised cells, to better reproduce the effect of time. 

                        This team is also involved in several projects for instrument developments, such as the EuroCares project which aims at preparing the return of Martian samples to Earth and their storage, or the CLUPI instrument (Close-Up Imager), which is part of the payload of the Exomars Rover. 

                          Further information here.

                            Further information about MASE

                              Twitter: @MarsAnalogues
                              Facebook : MASE@MarsAnalogues