|Simulation of Beagle 2 after a successful landing on the martian surface. Released May 2002.
All Rights Reserved Beagle 2
Any campaign for a successor mission is currently on hold pending a decision by the Beagle 2 team, including Professor Colin Pillinger, as to whether a follow-up mission is possible.
Britain's first Mars probe was due to land on Mars on 25 December 2003. Unfortunately it has not been heard from since separation from the Mars Express orbiter six days prior to the planned landing, and it must be presumed that it came down on the surface in Isidis Planitia too roughly to survive.
The Beagle 2 Management Board met in London on Friday 6 February and, following an assessment of the situation, declared Beagle 2 lost.
On 24 May the Commission of Inquiry on Beagle 2, set up jointly by ESA and the BNSC, presented its findings at a press conference in London.
The Inquiry has submitted to the UK's science minister Lord Sainsbury and to ESA's director-general Jean-Jacques Dordain 19 recommendations for the future.
Both the management of the project and its funding came in for criticism. Not that Beagle 2 was underfunded, but that the money came in late, creating uncertainty early on, and then pressure on the engineers to finish the job in a race against time. Meanwhile, good management would have required a contracting authority to make sure that the mission was put together in a way that allowed managers to control costs effectively.
Professor Colin Pillinger urged ESA to launch a replacement for Beagle 2 at the earliest opportunity. He also said it was time the UK had a proper space agency to direct its off-planet efforts.
"We gave Beagle the very best shot we could within the constraints that were placed upon us", he said. "We were right to have a go."
This is the BBC's report on that inquiry, linking to additional comments by BBC science editor Dr David Whitehouse.
(It has also been reported in the press that a separate inquiry is to be held by the Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology. However, this appears to be spurious.)
After a meeting in Oxford on 11 May 2004, Colin Pillinger confirmed to me personally that no decision regarding a successor to Beagle 2 could be taken before the Inquiry had been completed.
For news officially released by the Beagle 2 team on the post-mortem and any planned successor missions, please visit the Beagle 2 website.
My own view regarding a successor mission is that, if our government is to properly understand the significance of Beagle 2, they must be educated to see that it is not a question of science alone, and therefore not the kind of project that has to be funded out of a pre-existing science budget alone. Rather, Beagle 2 was an investment in the skills and infrastructure which will allow Britain to take part in one of the biggest growth areas of the future: the use of the material and energy resources of space to expand our civilisation out into the solar system.
Projects such as Beagle 2 should therefore be seen as combining scientific research with the national strategic goal of having a dynamic space sector, and the national political goal of encouraging informed support for modern civilisation, and therefore a belief in our long-term future on this planet and others. (Very important, in light of the current attacks on the validity of modern civilisation from both fanatical religionist and pessimistic environmentalist angles.)
I think it is also very important that Beagle 2 was uniquely British, rather than being seen as merely a British contribution to a pan-European project. It was thus possible for the British public to identify with Beagle 2 in a way in which they do not, for example, with the solar panels of the Hubble Space Telescope (manufactured in Bristol). Beagle 2 was an entire British spacecraft in conception and execution, not a component subcontracted out to us for someone else's project.
My proposal centres on the following declaration as a focus for gathering public support. (N.B. Professor Pillinger prefers to talk of a re-flight of Beagle 2 rather than of Beagles 3, 4 and so on, but others have used the latter terminology, which has the merit of clarity.)
To me, Beagle 2 is not just a question of science, but very much an issue of national identity. It represents the view that science and technology are indispensable to an optimistic view of humanity's future -- the opposite of the environmental pessimism and cynicism about the future which are currently so popular.
If you agree, then please get in touch with me, Stephen Ashworth, e-mail sa(at)astronist.demon.co.uk, to express your support for a campaign in favour of a follow-up mission!
Beagle 2, Britain's first spacecraft to explore Mars, has failed to return any signal from the surface of the red planet.
A nation does not become great through its public services and military strength alone. It is its presence on the frontiers of science, technology and exploration which brings a nation the lasting benefits of economic power and social progress. Britain's history from the Elizabethan age onwards has amply demonstrated this.
We therefore call on Parliament to make a follow-up to Beagle 2 a national priority.
We call for a fully funded dual mission of Beagles 3 and 4 to be sent to Mars no later than 2007. International collaboration shall be welcomed, but must not be used as an excuse to duck the responsibilities of leadership.
British engineers of the past built the modern world with outstanding railways, ocean liners, aircraft and networks of trade. We must inspire our younger generation to aspire to and surpass their achievements, both on Earth and in the new oceans and territories of space.
Last revised 1 June 2004 / 35th Apollo Anniversary Year
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