MARS EXPRESS is primarily a mission to search for water and carbon, the basis of all known life forms. Nasa's Viking landers looked for life signs in 1976, but only on the planet's surface. There is little chance of finding carbon-based compounds there because the sun would have burned away traces. The Beagle 2 lander will use Dr Ng Tze-chuen's drill-corer, mole-and-grinder to get inside rocks and underneath soil. 'We have been selected to perform a crucial task in the mission,' Dr Ng said. 'It's a remarkable thought that tools made in Hong Kong would end up on Mars.' Beagle 2 is expected to land near the equator, in a terrain sculpted by receding waters such as the bottom of a sedimentary basin where mineral deposits from water flows could be present. Guided by two cameras, a robotic arm will head for suitable rocks. It will use the grinder to remove the weathered rind from a rock and a microscope will be inserted to look for mineral deposits indicative of fossilised bacteria. The corer will extract material which will be returned to a combustion oven in the lander to be heated for chemical analysis. The results will be beamed back to Earth. In addition, sensors on the lander will try to detect methane, a by-product of organisms living on carbon dioxide. The Red Planet has been the centre of intense scientific research and debate in recent years. On December 5, a study in the journal Science used satellite data to show wide oceans once existed in northern lowlands bearing long beaches and ancient shorelines. In 1996, two Nasa scientists claimed to have found traces of organic compounds in a Martian meteorite.