Beagle 2 Found!

20th January, 2015

Beagleontheground1

Beagleontheground1It was tremendous to hear that Beagle 2 had been found on Mars. A great vindication of all those involved including the late Prof Colin Pillinger who did so much to make the UK mission to Mars happen.

Since I was a small boy I have always been fascinated by space, astronomy and space travel. In the early 1980’s I went to the Houston space centre and saw the Apollo Mission control room, went inside a space shuttle and remember standing next to a Saturn 5 Rocket, marvelling that something so huge could ever get off the ground.

So no surprise that I didn’t hesitate to accept the invitation to join the team at the National Space Centre on Christmas Morning 2003, even though it meant getting up at 5am to be there for the time Beagle was expected to land on Mars.

Colin wasn’t with us, but  we were connected to him at Milton Keynes and ESA HQ in Darmstadt.

The tension was tangible as we waited for the signal. We observed in silence, which just increased the anticipation. I did not really know what was going on, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone.

Gradually it became clear that the time had passed when the signal should be heard. I could feel that there was an unspoken collective willing that the signal would come through, but as the seconds and minutes passed there was a silent, acceptance that something had gone wrong.

There was no more to be done as the orbiting Mars Express passed out of range and would not be able to relay Beagle’s signals to Earth for several more hours. As the small group of sad observers broke up, we feared the worst, but spoke optimistically of the possibility that we would yet hear from Beagle 2. With hope in our hearts we set off in many directions to our Xmas dinners.

I continued to follow the news for the next few days hoping to hear that the mission was after all successful. Of course nothing was heard and it all faded from the news. Until last week when it was announced that Beagle 2 had been found. All the thoughts and feelings of that Xmas morning 12 years ago came back and I am so glad I got up early and went to the Space Centre that morning.

Footnote

Beagle2 and Mars Express were launched aboard a Soyuz rocket with Fregat upper stage boosters from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 18:45:28 BST on June 2nd 2003.

Professor Colin Pillinger from the Open University led the Beagle-2 project with inspirational enthusiasm; he died in May 2014. Professor George Fraser of the University of Leicester and Professor David Barnes of Aberystwyth University were also major contributors to Beagle-2, both of whom also died in 2014.

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