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Last Updated: Sunday, 21 December, 2003, 11:58 GMT
Mars mission inspires pupils
Beagle 2 descent (Image: All rights reserved Beagle 2)
Beagle is due to land on Christmas Day
Scientists hope the Beagle 2 mission to Mars will inspire greater interest in science among school students.

The spacecraft is due to land on the surface of Mars on Christmas Day, having detached from its "mothership", the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter, on Friday.

The University of Leicester and the National Space Centre, also in Leicester, are using the mission as he basis for an educational pack available to schools.

With them, pupils can begin their own "search for life" on Mars, the scientists said.

The University's Department for Physics and Astronomy has been closely involved in the Beagle 2 mission.

On board the craft are instruments, including Leicester's X-ray spectrometer, which will be used to detect elements in Martian rocks.

Professor Martin Barstow, leader of the Classroom Space Project, said: "I think Beagle 2 is special... It is the most high profile space mission we've ever been involved with in terms of popular interest.

'Pay the price'

"It is important to try and get students to take up science by using things like Beagle 2 and future missions.

"It's certainly getting harder to recruit scientists into universities because it's getting harder to persuade students to do A-Levels in science because there's so much competition.

"But if we don't do it we are going to pay the price because there won't be enough people with the right qualifications that we need scientists for."

The education packs, which are free, are based on astronomy and space science, but are also intended to help teachers of maths and geography in both primary and secondary schools.

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