British Mars Mission Criticized by Spending Group
Scientists Examine Image of Mars Beagle 2 Lander
British, European Space Agencies Open Inquiry into Beagle 2 Loss
Without a Trace: Whereabouts of Beagle 2 Remain a Mystery
Beagle Mission Hampered by Funding, Management Problems
By Jane Wardell
Associated Press
posted: 04:00 pm ET
24 May 2004


LONDON (AP) -- An official investigation into Europe's doomed mission to Mars delivered veiled criticisms of the ambitious project on Monday by recommending better management and funding of any future ventures to the Red Planet.

Science Minister Lord Sainsbury said that no single technical failure or shortcoming was to blame for the failure of Europe's first attempt to land a probe on Mars but suggested that scientists had overestimated the success of the mission.

"It's now clear that the very high potential scientific benefits of the project may have contributed to a collective institutional underestimate of ways to identify and mitigate the risks ... and they proved difficult to resolve due to tight financial and schedule constraints," Sainsbury said.

The British Government and the European Space Agency refused to release the full report they commissioned into the loss of the Beagle 2 Mars lander, issuing instead only a list of recommendations generated from the inquiry.

Sainsbury said the report was kept confidential to protect sensitive commercial interests and ensure no one was afraid to come forward with evidence.

The government plowed more than 22 million pounds (US$40 million) into the British-built Mars lander, which piggybacked a ride to Mars on the back of a European Space Agency orbiter. The rest of the 44 million pounds (US$80 million) came from private companies.

Beagle 2 was due to touch down on Mars on Christmas Day but has not been heard from since it was ejected from ESA's Mars Express in mid-December.

The tiny lander was due to spend six months probing and analyzing rocks and soil with its robotic arm, sending back data via the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter.

The report recommendations said future missions should be "well scoped" at an early stage so that they are better able to deal with any problems that might arise in the later stages of a project's development.

Sainsbury said there were difficulties with the treatment of Beagle 2 as an instrument in the Mars Express mission, a standard practice at the time, rather than as an integral part of the spacecraft.

Professor David Southwood, director of space science at ESA, said scientists had learned several lessons from the failure of Beagle 2 and that Europe would continue with its space exploration.

"We were working in a system which wasn't right, where the organizational structures weren't right and people didn't have the right level of empowerment, authority or resource," he said.

"Exploring the solar system is too important to just leave to the Americans and we Europeans have our role to play out there."

Prof. Colin Pillinger, the British scientist who led the mission and wants to return to Mars by 2007, called for the creation of a British space agency such as America's NASA to spearhead future projects.

The fate of Beagle 2 remains unknown despite aerial searches by the U.S. Mars Global Surveyor orbiter and sweeps by Earth-based radio telescopes.

Pillinger said the most likely explanation for the loss of Beagle 2 were turbulent Martian dust storms that preceded the arrival of the lander, heating the atmosphere and making it thinner.

"It was thinner than anticipated," he said. "If the atmosphere is thinner, everything is triggered later."

As a result, Beagle 2's parachutes and the air bags that were designed to cushion its fall would have been deployed too late or not at all.

Other theories include suggestions that Beagle's back shell tangled with the parachute, preventing it from opening properly, or that it became wrapped up in its air bags or parachute on the surface and could not open.

Southwood said the mystery may one day be solved, and hopefully by Europeans.

"You never know, one day in the future, Europeans walking across the surface of Mars will find Beagle," he said.


Starry Night Screensaver
Explore More

Site Map | News | SpaceFlight | Science | Technology | Entertainment | SpaceViews | NightSky | Ad Astra | SETI | Hot Topics
Image Galleries | Videos | Reader Favorites | Image of the Day | Amazing Images | Wallpapers | Games | Community
about us | FREE Email Newsletter | message boards | register at | contact us | advertise with us | terms & conditions | privacy statement
  What is This?