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For the attention of: science correspondents
Tuesday August 9 2005 [PR5050]
NASA hopes to get a photo-op with missing Beagle 2
Professor Colin Pillinger of The Open University still has hopes that after a year and a half, the mystery of what happened to the Beagle 2 spacecraft on Mars can be answered.
The best chance to solve that mystery is going into space tomorrow (10 August) when NASA launches the biggest-ever telescopic camera as part of its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.
The mission is about examining Mars and studying the history and distribution of Martian water, the key to life on the red planet, as well as Martian weather and possible landing sites for future missions. But, it can also do some detective work as well.
At the Planetary and Space Sciences Research Institute (PSSRI) where Beagle 2 was built, Professor Pillinger says answers about what happened to the spacecraft that disappeared without a trace on Christmas Day 2003, need to be answered. “If you could see it; if you see whether the parachute opened or not, it would answer a lot of questions for future missions.”
At NASA there’s a man who wants those answers as badly as Professor Pillinger. The project scientist for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is Rich Zurek who says he has the biggest magnifying glass possible. “If there are clues (about Beagle 2), we’re going to find them.”
In a NASA press release, Zurek is quoted as saying: “We all know how hard it is to get to Mars. The worst is not quite knowing what happened. We really felt for our European colleagues because we’ve been through it ourselves. We know how painful it is to lose a spacecraft that you’ve dedicated so many years to build.”
NASA lost its Mars Polar Lander in 1999 and says two-thirds of all international missions to the red planet have failed.
This mission, armed with a camera that can pick out objects the size of a small dining table on the surface from its orbit, also has other detective tricks on board.
“Of course,” Zurek adds,”the three-foot wide Beagle 2 still may be too small for our cameras to see, unless it left a telltale tracks in the Martian soil.”
In that case, another instrument, the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars could find signs that something crashed into the surface. “It would be like having a mineral fingerprint pointing to the spot where Beagle 2 landed,” Zurek says.
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter arrives at the red planet in March 2006 and starts the search that could solve mysteries of the past and of the future.
Louis De La Forêt firstname.lastname@example.org +(44) 1908 653256
Professor Colin Pillinger email@example.com +(44) 1908 652119