Minister sets sights on Beagle 3

January 2, 2004

Scientists struggling to contact the UK’s Mars probe were this week assured of life after Beagle 2 by a government commitment to future exploration of the solar system.

Lord Sainsbury, the science minister, called for a Beagle 3 mission, through the European Space Agency’s ambitious Aurora programme, whether the lost lander ultimately calls home or not. He added that it would be a mistake not to continue supporting such high-risk projects.

As The THES went to press, experts had failed to make contact with Beagle 2 since it reached the surface of the red planet on Christmas day.

Lord Sainsbury’s declaration took some of the sting out of a difficult week for the team of scientists and engineers from Leicester and the Open universities and 100 other UK institutions.

The scientists are now pinning their hopes on Esa’s Mars Express spacecraft, which will sweep over the Beagle 2 landing site four times between January 6 and 17.

“While we’re disappointed that things have not gone according to plan, we are determined that the search should go on, both to make contact with Beagle 2 and to answer the long-term question about whether there is life on Mars,” Lord Sainsbury said.

Mark Barstow, professor of astrophysics and space science at Leicester University, said Lord Sainsbury’s timely announcement of support for Aurora, which could culminate with a manned mission to Mars in 2033, was especially welcome.

“After all the effort involved in getting Beagle 2 to Mars, it would be a waste if we didn’t keep up the momentum,” he said.

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