It’s December 2003. Britain is agog with the possibility that a bit of British science might just discover life on Mars. The Beagle 2 rover was lovingly described to us by the inimitable Professor Colin Pillinger, who had virtually single-handedly begged, borrowed and nagged people and institutions to put up the £50m ($80m) needed to put the project together.
We sat round our TVs and watched, and waited, as the countdown to landing came.
It’s entered the atmosphere. It should be slowing down. We hope the heatshields are working. We hope the parachutes have deployed.
It should send back a signal soon.
We really hope it’ll send back a signal.
We don’t know what happened to it.
We had our Christmas dinners and wondered whether Britain would ever be Great again.
Then Curiosity and the Mars Rover and the rest came and went, and we wondered whether it might be found. Maybe it had landed in a hole and not got its solar panels working. Maybe it had tipped over. Most likely it broke up and landed in bits, said the unkind ones.
Last year Colin Pillinger died. It was his life’s work, and I hope it didn’t break his heart.
Because they’ve finally found it.
The Beagle did land. It landed right where it was supposed to land, and settled the right way up. But its solar panels didn’t unfold properly, and its antenna for sending signals never unfurled. The scientists say it’ll have all sorts of interesting data it collected on its way down stored within its datachips.
All it needs is for someone to go and collect it with a USB stick.
I guess someone could write that into a story with no trouble at all… Paul? Rebecca? MT? Me?
The announcement and details were revealed at the Royal Society in London on Friday. It’s been in a lot of papers, and I read it in the Guardian, which you can see online here.
Thank you, NASA and the Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter, for finding and photographing it. You’ve made a lot of British space geeks very happy.
Picture: An artist’s impression of the Beagle 2 probe on Mars – as it would have appeared if it had landed successfully. Credit: theguardian.com/UK Space Agency/PA