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Last Updated: Monday, 26 July, 2004, 10:00 GMT 11:00 UK
'Beagle 3' looks to American ride
By Paul Rincon
BBC News Online science staff in Paris, France

Beagle model, Image rights reserved by Beagle 2
Most are agreed the instrument package was an excellent one
Colin Pillinger has asked the US space agency to put a Beagle "pod" on its Mars Science Laboratory probe for 2009.

Professor Pillinger says he wants to send a second Beagle instrument package to the Red Planet as soon as possible.

"We wrote to Nasa last week, asking them if they'd like to put a Beagle pod on MSL and drop it off in an interesting place," he said.

The Mars Science Laboratory is designed to pave the way for a future mission that would return rocks to Earth.

MSL includes a "smart" rover that would be dropped on to the surface of the Red Planet by a "skycrane".

The vehicle would operate for at least one Martian year, doing biology experiments as well extending the geology work currently being conducted by the Mars Exploration Rovers on the planet today.

On the move

Professor Pillinger, the chief scientist on Beagle 2, argued the case for sending a follow-up mission to Mars before the Committee on Space Research (Cospar) scientific assembly in Paris on Friday.

"If you're going to bring back a documented sample from Mars, I think you ought to screen it beforehand to make sure that all the effort you've gone to gets the best sample," said the Open University scientist.

It was the second voyage of HMS Beagle which was the important one, not the first
Prof Colin Pillinger
The Beagle 2 creator was talking at a panel discussion on the future of Mars exploration. He added that, in his opinion, it was also essential to demonstrate whether or not there was life on the Red Planet before manned missions were sent to explore it.

"If we do send men there, we will inevitably be taking Earth microbiology to our neighbour in the Solar System and it will never be the same after that," he explained.

BEAGLE 2: THE INQUIRY

Professor Steve Squyres, principal investigator for the Mars rovers' science payload, who was also on the panel, said he hoped the success of Nasa's robotic explorers had ended discussions about the importance of mobility on landers.

But Professor Pillinger argued that Beagle had a unique capability lacking in other science payloads - the ability to burrow beneath Mars' soil.

European competition

"Whenever people argued that Beagle didn't have mobility, I would argue it did. We were going to go down instead of across. I think down is a very important place to go [on Mars]," he told delegates at the conference.

Professor Pillinger was referring to the "mole", a burrowing instrument designed to obtain a soil sample from beneath the surface.

What happened to Beagle 2 as it headed to Mars?

The Open University professor also mused on the factors that might have scuppered his first attempt to land on the Red Planet.

"We don't know what went wrong. It could have been something as simple as a tiny resistor in a communications chain," he said.

"Our best bet is that the gremlins of Mars changed the composition of the atmosphere to the point where it was thinner than we anticipated so we didn't make it to the surface."

But he added: "I should remind you that Beagle 2 was named after the ship HMS Beagle that took Charles Darwin around the world. It was the second voyage of HMS Beagle which was the important one, not the first."

The European Space Agency is planning its own lander mission, called ExoMars, to look for traces of life on the Red Planet. This might also launch in 2009.




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