Tuesday, 20 January 2015

The Beagle has landed: Britain's missing spacecraft found on Mars

LONDON (Reuters) -
Britain's "Beagle 2" spacecraft,
once dubbed "a heroic failure" by
the nation's Astronomer Royal,
was re-branded "a great
success" on Friday for being
found on Mars 11 years after
going missing.
Beagle 2, part of a European
Space Agency's Mars Express
mission searching for
extraterrestrial life, had been due
to land on Mars on Christmas Day
2003, but disappeared on
December 19, 2003. Until now,
nothing had been heard from it.
But at a packed news conference
at London's Royal Society
scientific institution on Friday,
space experts said the tiny Mars
lander had been found on the
surface of the red planet.
"Beagle 2 is no longer lost," said
David Parker, chief executive of
UK Space Agency.
He said recent images from the
HiRISE camera on NASA's Mars
Reconnaissance Orbiter showed
"good evidence" that the
spacecraft landed on Mars on the
date it was due -- Dec. 25, 2003
-- but had only partially deployed.
"The entry, descent and landing
sequence for Beagle 2 worked
and the lander did successfully
touch down on Mars on
Christmas Day 2003," UK Space
Agency said in a statement.
Beagle 2 -- measuring less than 2
meters across -- was named after
the ship Charles Darwin sailed
when he formulated his theory
of evolution. It was built by
British scientists led by Colin
Pillinger for about 50 million
pounds ($85 million)
The plan was for it to report back
from the Mars' surface using
instruments designed to help
search for signs of life, but
nothing was heard after it was
dropped off to make its landing.
"We were left with a mystery, a
mystery that has continued to
this day," Parker said.
Mark Sims from Leicester
University, Beagle 2's mission
manager, said that while the
spacecraft had failed to
communicate any data from
Mars, it had succeeded in getting
to its target, landing, and
inspiring scientists. "Overall, I
would say Beagle 2 was a great
success," he told the news
conference.
Martin Rees, Britain's Astronomer
Royal, last year praised Beagle 2
and its eccentric creator Pillinger,
who had died at age 70, saying:
"This was a failure, but a heroic
failure."
Sims said the find was exciting,
frustrating and "tinged with
sadness" because Pillinger did
not live to see it.
Asked to suggest what might
have gone wrong, Sims said: "It
was most probably a bad luck
scenario -- a hard landing."

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