16 Jan 2015

Beagle 2 – a very British space mission

Beagle 2 was unique in many ways. For an interplanetary space mission it was built quickly, quite cheaply, designed perhaps imperfectly. But above all else, and what sets it apart from other robotic space missions, it was personal.

It was the work of a small team of scientists mainly at the University of Leicester and the Open University led by the charismatic, charming and rather unlikely cow farming space scientist Professor Colin Pillinger.

As the mission approached completion the team became familiar faces in newspapers, chat shows, Blue Peter. Colin and his colleagues let journalists and the public to get close to their mission and share in their enthusiasm for Beagle 2.

And so it was, when all contact was lost with the probe soon after it descended through Mars’ atmosphere everyone felt more than a bit disappointed.


But none more so than Colin Pillinger who, if he hadn’t died suddenly less than a year ago, would have been delighted with today’s findings.

Beagle 2 it seems didn’t skip off the Martian atmosphere and out into oblivion, nor did it smash into a million pieces on the surface of Mars. It looks like it landed, deployed most of its solar panels and very nearly phoned home.


As Colin Pillinger’s widow Dr Judith Pillinger put it this morning, her husband no doubt would have described it as having “hit the crossbar” rather than missing the goal completely. A very British end to a very British space mission.

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