Canadians have one more thing to be proud of today.

Today NASA launched the Curiosity probe, the latest in a long history of robotic explorers sent to Mars to collect data and to search for signs of life present or past. This mission is going to travel to the red planet, and a robotic rover will descend to the surface. The target region was identified several years ago by an orbiting probe which identified a region of Mars which is covered in clay.

The presence of clay indicates that at some point in history Mars had liquid water on its surface - and it may still be present. And although nothing is certain on Mars, here on Earth every place there has been or still is liquid water there has been life in some form. This mission could reveal the first extraterrestrial lifeforms (although admittedly they would likely be microscopic bacteria or lesser lifeforms)

And Canadians can be proud of part of this mission as well. Scientists based in Ontario developed the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APSX) with funding from the Canadian Space Agency and engineering and consulting from the planetary missions specialists at MDA, which is also based in Canada. This equipment, which is actually quite small, will be one of ten on the Curiosity probe which will be used to examine the surface of Mars. The APXS in particular will analyze the chemical composition of the clay to determine if any of the traditional building blocks of life are present.

Of course this mission is only in its infancy, as the probe was just launched. It should also be kept in mind that nearly two thirds of Mars missions have failed, and returned nothing useful. It is also possible that the findings of the Curiosity probe will be ambiguous, as some previous attempts to find life have been. 

However this is still a step forward for the scientific community in general, and this time there will be an extra reason for Canadians to be cheering!