Scientist: Failed Beagle 2 probe ‘found’ on Mars
By Kate Holton
LONDON (Reuters) – The British scientist behind the lost 2003 Beagle 2 mission to Mars said on Tuesday the craft may have been spotted in Nasa pictures which indicate the project very nearly worked.
Beagle 2, named after the ship Charles Darwin sailed in when he formulated his theory of evolution, was built by British scientists for about 50 million pounds ($90 million) and taken to Mars aboard the European Space Agency’s orbiter Mars Express.
It was due to land in a crater on the red planet in a bouncing ball of airbags and begin looking for signs of life on Christmas Day, 2003. But it lost contact with Earth once it separated from the mother ship in mid-December.
Colin Pillinger told the BBC he thought the craft may have hit the ground too hard, damaging its instruments, because the atmosphere was thinner than usual due to dust storms.
Pictures taken by NASA’s orbiting Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft may contain clues about Beagle’s final seconds.
“There is a lot of disturbance in this crater, particularly a big patch on the north crater wall which we think is the primary impact site,” Pillinger said.
“There are then other features around the crater consistent with the airbags bouncing around and finally falling down into the middle. Then, when you cut the lace, the airbags fall apart giving three very symmetrical triangles.”
Four roughly circular features to the right of the ‘airbag’ markings could be Beagle’s unfolded solar panels, he said.
Pillinger said the findings, if correct, showed the project came very close to working but had failed because it had landed in a “sideways motion” instead of a “horizontal mode.”
“That may have damaged the lander so the lid didn’t open properly and didn’t release the antennae, so we couldn’t get the signal,” he said.
The European Space Agency and British government, which jointly commissioned an inquiry into what went wrong, said in May 2004 that no one was to blame for the mission’s failure.