Beagle 2

Hunt is on for missing Beagle 2 probe - link
9.41PM, 25 Dec 2003

Scientists at the Jodrell Bank radio telescope are scanning the skies for signs of Britain's Beagle 2 probe on Mars.

But hopes are fading that it landed safely - the project team headed by Professor Colin Pillinger failed to receive its call sign, a nine-note tune composed by members of the pop group Blur.

Their hopes now rest on Jodrell Bank, but if there is no sign by tomorrow morning, it is likely the Beagle has been lost - destroyed by space debris or burnt in the hazardous entry to the Martian atmosphere.

It has travelled 250 million miles to search for signs of life on the Red Planet and last week separated from its Mars Express mother ship, and appeared to be on a perfect course for a Christmas Day landing.

But first it had to endure a perilous descent through the Martian atmosphere, slowing from 12,500mph to 36mph in under eight minutes.

Then Beagle 2 had to make contact with Nasa's Mars Odyssey spacecraft, which has been orbiting the planet since 2001. Odyssey is being used as a relay station until Mars Express is ready to take over communications.

Beagle 2 is on a 180-day mission to test soil, rock and air samples for signs of past or present life on Mars.

Blur's bass player Alex James, who had stayed up with the scientists, was upbeat.

He said: "It would have been nice if we had heard it had landed but it's far away and very alone. Maybe they're picking the music up on Pluto.

"In a way it's already been a massive success just for free enterprise and British balls and brilliance.

"This is pure theatre. We've got the world's media here. Now it gets better, we get the big toys out - Jodrell Bank."

The 140 million mission began in June when a Russian rocket launched Mars Express into space from the Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan.

In October the spacecraft's navigation system was temporarily blinded by radiation from a powerful solar flare, but it survived.

Dec. 25, 2003

As the rest of the country settles down with the turkey today (December 25), members of BLUR will be holed up inside CHESHIRE's JODRELL BANK OBSERVATORY - waiting on word back from life on Mars.

Today sees the climax of the band-backed Beagle 2 project, the British effort to land on Mars. If things go to plan, the probe will land on the planet's surface on Christmas Day and the first signal we Earthlings will hear back will be a Blur song.

Scientists are waiting for the signal, which wasn't heard when the probe was supposed to land in the early hours of this morning. However, there is still a chance the signal will be heard later today.

Dave Rowntree explained that the band became involved with the project back in 1999, at the height of the campaign for their album '13'. He told NME.COM: "Alex [James] and I have always been fascinated by space exploration. They'd been going round banging their heads against a brick wall trying to get the funding. That's where we came in. Because we had access to the media we were able to help out."

However, Blur soon became more involved with the project, masterminded by Open University Professor Colin Pillinger. He continued: "They came up with such an ingenious scheme. When the probe lands it has to send a signal back to say that it's landed, and that signal could be anything. And we said why not write a piece of music?"

Damon Albarn composed 'Beagle 2', a song which first appeared as a B-side to their 1999 single 'No Distance Left To Run'. Today the team will be holed up in Jodrell Bank awaiting news of whether the Beagle has landed. If does, it will be the best Christmas present Dave has ever been given.

"Britain's got great telescopes and great engineers, but we've never traditionally had a space programme to match that," Dave told NME.COM. "Yet this might actually answer the question, is there life on Mars?"

Beagle is able to burrow into the surface of Mars. By probing, the team believe they can identify whether there has ever been water on the planet. Water would be the biggest breakthrough in discovering whether the planet has ever been capable of sustaining life.

The probe was named after the HMS Beagle, the vessel on which Charles Darwin began the epic voyage that led to the writing 'On The Origin Of Species'.