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  Missions to Mars explained
Updated 23 January 2004, 16.49
Spirit, Opportunity, Beagle 2 and Mars Express.

We're sure you've heard these names tonnes of times in the past few weeks.

Basically, they're all space craft which have been sent to Mars, known as the red planet.

But who sent them and what do they do?

Sit back, relax, and let Newsround answer your questions.

What is Mars Express?
It's Europe's first solo mission to another planet.

This is Mars Express, on its take-off pad
This is Mars Express, on its take-off pad

It blasted off from Kazakhstan in June, carrying the British-built lander, Beagle 2.

Mars Express reached the red planet in December, when Beagle 2 broke free of its mothership and headed for the surface.

What happened to Beagle 2?
Beagle 2 was designed to take pictures and to examine rocks and soil.

This would help us work out whether there was ever life on the planet.

However, no-one's heard from it since it left its mothership - Mars Express.

Repeated efforts to contact it failed. Its fate remains a bit of a mystery.

This is Spirit
This is Spirit

So what are Spirit and Opportunity?
They're probes - with the same purpose as Beagle 2 - but they are part of US-led missions, which blasted off in June and July.

Spirit landed on Mars on 3 January. Opportunity touched down on 25 January.

Spirit made great progress at first - managing to get off its landing pod and taking stunning images of the planet's surface.

But it broke down on 21 January.

Scientists have since managed to get it going again for 20 minutes and they're hopeful that they can resolve the problem.

What's happened to Mars Express?
It's orbiting Mars. It's on a two-year mission to map the planet, work out what's beneath the surface and to check out its atmosphere.

It's already started sending back detailed pictures of the planet.

More InfoBORDER=0
PicturesSpirit rover probe on Mars
Find OutCheck this space guide
Find OutBeagle 2 guide
QuizMars planet quiz
QuizTry the Beagle 2 quiz


Past StoriesBORDER=0
US scientists contact Mars rover
US loses contact with Mars rover
Spirit 'may have landed in mud'
Mars Express sends amazing image
US hoping to send a man to Mars
Attempt to contact Beagle fails


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