In June 2023, LifeSpringsMars Program Director Prof. Martin Van Kranendonk led members from NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, the European Space Agency, the Australian Space Agency, and CSIRO on a field expedition to the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Here in the remote Australian outback, Martin showed the team a series of ancient stromatolite fossils that are 2.7 to 3.5 billion years old. The most ancient of these fossils are considered the oldest, most convincing evidence of life on Earth, and studying them is helping planetary scientists in their search for life on Mars.

To understand if life ever formed on Mars and where we might find it, we need to first understand Earth’s record of early life and its environments. Analogue environments from the Pilbara region of Western Australia provide planetary scientists with an opportunity to gain insights into the off-world environments they would explore on Mars, beyond the remote imaging and data returned by robotic missions.

During the week-long expedition, the international delegation discussed how they could overcome the challenges of locating and analysing possible fossilised evidence on Mars, using what they learnt from studying the stromatolite fossils of the Pilbara.


This international astrobiology expedition is a testament to the global importance of understanding and learning from the Pilbara's unique geoheritage and sets the stage for collaboration on future Mars rover missions.

You can read more about NASA’s experience on the trip here, and see the ancient fossils for yourself in this NASA YouTube video.

Learn more about Martin’s work and the LifeSpringsMars mission – the first Australian concept sample return mission to Mars, on this website