Sydney - Jan 06, 2004
The Monty Python song "always look on the bright side of life" comes to mind as we contemplate the apparent loss of the Beagle 2 Mars lander. By now, repeated attempts to contact the spacecraft have failed, and it seems reasonable to conclude that we will never hear from it.
We have lost much science and adventure along with the lander, but the Beagle 2 project is more than just the hardware that was deposited on the surface. Beagle 2 has been a mission that has been underway for years, and has generated interesting results throughout its course.
The Beagle 2 team, headed by Professor Colin Pillinger, has pioneered new ground in developing planetary missions. Their innovations have appeared in everything from funding strategies to media campaigns. Along the way, they have recruited individuals ranging from modern artists and pop stars to amateur spaceflight engineers who have modified devices such as dental drills for use on Mars.
Some of this maverick engineering has been demonstrated in the past with small satellite groups such as Amsat, well known for their amateur radio satellites. But nobody has previously taken such planning all the way to Mars.
The loss of the mission will certainly lead to an examination of the design and engineering of the lander. Some criticisms may be valid, but the critics should make sure that their comments are constructive. It can often be useful to try new and untested design principles, especially when aerospace engineering is so conservative.
Failures may appear, but the potential rewards can be enough to make a few losses bearable. In any case, spacecraft that have been assembled with larger budgets and redundant components can still fail. The remnants of such vehicles are strewn about Mars today.
Beagle 2 has probably achieved more publicity and interest in Mars in Europe, and especially in the UK, than any other mission before it. Even the loss of this mission at a hazardous stage in its journey is interesting, as it reminds us that space is still a dangerous, mysterious frontier. Like explorers of old, we must understand that risks and failures are a regular part of venturing into deep space.
Beagle 2 inspires us to keep exploring Mars and the rest of the Universe. If the team behind the spacecraft can almost reach their destination, then a little more effort could see them complete a journey to Mars. We have to keep trying, and planning for the next mission should be carried out as soon as investigations into the loss of Beagle 2 are finished.
Morris Jones is a freelance writer about Space based in Sydney Australia.
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Communication Strategy of the Beagle 2 "Think Tank"
London - Dec 30, 2003
As part of the Media update on 27th December, Professor Alan Wells (Lander Operations Control Centre, University of Leicester) outlined details of the work being undertaken by the Beagle 2 team to assess the current situation. A specialist team, titled the "Analysis and Recovery Think Tank", has been established to concentrate on understanding the reasons for Beagle 2's apparent failure to make contact with Earth, and to address the steps that may be taken to resolve these problems.
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