Washington State University astrobiologist Dirk Schulze-Makuch and 20 scientists propose a small fleet of sensor packages that could drill into the martian soil and search for signs of ancient or existing life.
The proposal for the BOLD mission, for Biological Oxidant and Life Detection, has been published in the journal Planetary and Space Science.
"We really want to address the big questions on Mars and not fiddle around," Schulze-Makuch said. "With the money for space exploration drying up, we finally have to get some exciting results that not only the experts and scientists in the field are interested in but that the public is interested, too."
The mission would see six 130-pound probes dropped at various locations, descending by parachute to the surface and thrusting a soil sampler nearly 1 foot into the ground.
On-board instrumentation would conduct half a dozen experiments, transmitting data to an orbiter overhead.
While each probe would have about a 50-50 chance of landing successfully, with the redundancy of six probes the chance of one succeeding is better than 98 percent, Schulze-Makuch said.