The Plastic Hippo

January 18, 2015

The Beagle has landed

Filed under: Science,World — theplastichippo @ 3:00 am
Tags: , ,


Even with imaginations the size of a galaxies, H G Wells, Isaac Asimov or Arthur C Clarke could never have concocted a scenario in which the planet Mars is conquered by a bloke called Colin from Bristol.

When, on Christmas Day 2003, contact with the Beagle 2 Martian Lander was lost, a whole load of ridicule was heaped upon the failed project. With the crystal clear clarity that only hindsight can offer, bar room astrophysicists knew all along that the British would fail to guide a space craft to the red planet. Even if it cost a fraction of similar attempts at planetary exploration, 50 million quid was a complete waste of money and some wiseacres blissfully unaware of Darwin`s Theory of Evolution highlighted the stupidity of naming the mission after a breed of dog. Most derisory laughter was, however, directed at the mission director and the commission inquiry into the failure blamed his management of the project as a contributory factor in the loss of the spacecraft.

Professor Colin Pillinger of The Open University was something of a deliberate caricature. With unruly hair, mutton-chop whiskers and a broad West Country accent, his invented persona was intended to draw attention to his work, attract funding for his crazy scheme and, more importantly, popularise science. It worked; Beagle 2 became a reality. Persuading Damien Hirst to create the graphic used to calibrate the spacecraft`s cameras and having Blur compose the jingle call-sign might be considered gimmicks, but it all helped to raise the 50 million. In terms of comparison and taking inflation into account, it cost Real Madrid 80 million in 2009 to secure the services of Christiano Ronaldo from Manchester United. In 2013, Gareth Bale went to Real for 85 million. As a football fan, Colin played a blinder by getting something to Mars rather than Madrid.

Pillinger was also a major driving force behind the Rosetta mission that recently landed on comet 67P; an astonishing achievement now predominately remembered for the display of a rather tasteless shirt. He also inspired a new generation of planetary scientists and a new generation of Mars rovers. The Spirit rover became bogged down in soft soil and packed up in 2010 but Opportunity and Curiosity continue to scuttle about on the surface of the planet well beyond their expiry date.

Beagle 2 died on Christmas Day 2003 and Colin Pillinger died in May 2014. Well, we think they died but you can never be sure. Beagle 2 was discovered by an orbiter and seems to have landed intact and on target and had probably collected the data it was sent to Mars to retrieve. The problem was that two of its solar panels did not deploy and so blocked the telemetry transmitter designed to bounce the information back to Earth. The robot has been sitting on the surface of Mars for 10 years having successfully completed its mission.

Conceived and designed in Milton Keynes, its robotic arm built in Aberystwyth and with mission control based in Leicester, even H G Wells would screw up his face, shake his head and say “Nah”. He has only been dead eight months but the people who laughed at Colin Pillinger might wish to check his grave to make sure that he is actually dead.

We have enough footballers; we need more scientists like Colin from Bristol.



1 Comment »

  1. Science lands probes on Mars.
    Religion crashes planes into skyscrapers.

    Nuff said.


    Comment by BrownhillsBob — January 18, 2015 @ 4:31 pm | Reply

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