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Last Updated: Friday, 26 December, 2003, 14:17 GMT
Mars mission 'an inspiration'
By Helen Briggs
BBC News Online

Beagle (European Space Agency)
Beagle: Please call home
Mars exploration has a chequered history. The planet is littered with the remains of spacecraft that have been lost in action.

The fate of Beagle 2 remains uncertain but it is far too early to write it off.

The agony goes on for the mission scientists who have spent sleepless nights waiting for news of their "baby".

But, whatever happens, there is plenty of cause for celebration.

The UK has much to be proud of for building a Mars spacecraft on a tiny budget against all the odds.

'Inspiration'

Professor Colin Pillinger says it would be foolish to give up hope until Mars Express has made attempts to contact the probe in January.

COST OF BEAGLE 2
Total cost: Between 35m and 40m
Numerous private companies have invested in the project
Underwritten by European Space Agency and UK's Department of Trade and Industry
But he says the money spent on the mission will not be wasted - there is a return.

"I think the most important thing to come out of this is that we've demonstrated the British public wants to do space science," he told BBC News Online.

Beagle is an inspiration to young people who might take up science and engineering, he adds, and has provided tangible benefits in training those who have worked on the mission so far.

Meanwhile, we must not lose sight of the fact that Europe's Mars Express, Beagle's mothership and the mainstay of the mission, has made it safely into orbit.

"We must emphasise that Mars Express, which is a fantastic mission with lots of new science, is safe and sound," Professor Pillinger says.

"They're commissioning the satellite and they will be in a position to provide science in the middle of January."

Silver lining

The orbiter is equipped with a suite of scientific instruments that will provide a wealth of new information.

Mars Express (European Space Agency)
Mars Express is safely in orbit
Mars Express could tell us why the Red Planet was once more like our home planet: warm, wet and brimming with oceans.

It should also provide the best map yet of the mysterious surface of Mars.

Dr Andrew Coates has a vested interest in both Beagle and Mars Express.

He leads a team at University College London's Mullard Space Science Laboratory involved in both the Beagle camera and an instrument on Mars Express that will probe the Martian atmosphere.

Dr Coates believes the cloud hanging over Beagle has a silver lining.

"It actually puts Britain in the forefront of space exploration for future missions," he says.

But Mars will not have to wait too long for new visitors from Earth.

Beagle 2 will shortly be joined on the surface of Mars by the first of two American landers.

The Spirit Mars Exploration Rover is due to arrive on the Red Planet on 4 January.

The second US rover, called Opportunity, will land at the end of the same month.





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