Scientist confident of HK role in Mars lander

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 August, 2008, 12:00am

Hong Kong dentist and micro- sampling expert Ng Tze-chuen is quietly confident Hong Kong will have a part to play in the Mars rover that is being hailed as Europe's 'biggest Mars project'.

The Euro1 billion (HK$11.5 billion) ExoMars mission, led by the European Space Agency, moved a step closer to liftoff yesterday with the unveiling of a prototype of the rover scheduled to touch down on the Red Planet by 2015.

The rover will look for signs of life on Mars by extracting rock samples from the surface.

The final design will be unveiled at the end of the year.

'Hopefully, I can win a place or two for Hong Kong [inventions] on the Mars mission, although it's too early to tell at this stage,' said Dr Ng, a member of the Polytechnic University-based team that has designed previous sampling machinery for the European Space Agency.

The only Asian face in a team of European experts, Dr Ng said his participation was due to Hong Kong's position as the international leader in micro-sampling, a skill integral to exploring planetary surfaces.

Dr Ng and the PolyU team designed space drills for the European Space Agency's first mission to Mars, Beagle 2, but the lander crashed on the planet in 2003.

He said that although ExoMars was better-funded, and backed by more experts than Beagle 2, touching down safely remained the biggest problem because of Mars' heavy gravitational force and stormy weather conditions.

'As long as I see my instruments on Mars, I will be satisfied,' he said.