Humankind's innate curiosity makes us wonder whether life is or was present on other planetary bodies such as Mars. The EuroGeoMars 2009 campaign was organized at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) to perform multidisciplinary astrobiology research. MDRS in southeast Utah is situated in a cold arid desert with mineralogy and erosion processes comparable to those on Mars. Insight into the microbial community composition of this terrestrial Mars analogue provides essential information for the search for life on Mars: including sampling and life detection methodology optimization and what kind of organisms to expect. Soil samples were collected from different locations. Culture-independent molecular analyses directed at ribosomal RNA genes revealed the presence of all three domains of life (Archaea, Bacteria and Eukarya), but these were not detected in all samples. Spiking experiments revealed that this appears to relate to low DNA recovery, due to adsorption or degradation. Bacteria were most frequently detected and showed high alpha- and beta-diversity. Members of the Actinobacteria, Proteobacteria, Bacteroidetes and Gemmatimonadetes phyla were found in the majority of samples. Archaea alpha- and beta-diversity was very low. For Eukarya, a diverse range of organisms was identified, such as fungi, green algae and several phyla of Protozoa. Phylogenetic analysis revealed an extraordinary variety of putative extremophiles, mainly Bacteria but also Archaea and Eukarya. These comprised radioresistant, endolithic, chasmolithic, xerophilic, hypolithic, thermophilic, thermoacidophilic, psychrophilic, halophilic, haloalkaliphilic and alkaliphilic micro-organisms. Overall, our data revealed large difference in occurrence and diversity over short distances, indicating the need for high-sampling frequency at similar sites. DNA extraction methods need to be optimized to improve extraction efficiencies.