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 June 15, 2003
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European Spacecraft Set for Mars Mission
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MOSCOW (AP) -- An unmanned European spacecraft - poised for launch Monday on a Russian rocket - will orbit Mars for nearly two years and search for signs of life on the planet.

The Mars Express spacecraft is to be launched by the Soyuz FG booster rocket from the Russian-operated Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 9:45 p.m. Monday (1:45 p.m. EDT), according to the Russian Space Forces, which runs the launchpad.

The European Space Agency vehicle, which cost $350 million, will initially be put into the Earth's orbit. About 90 minutes later, it will be given a final push to send it on a six-month journey to Mars - the ESA's first interplanetary mission.

Several days before the spacecraft reaches Mars in December, the British-built Beagle 2 lander is set to separate from the vehicle. It will parachute down to the Martian surface on Dec. 25. The tiny lander will head to Isidis Planitia, north of the Martian equator where traces of life could have been preserved.

(Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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