Brit boffin Colin Pillinger - the man behind the failed Beagle 2 mission to Mars - says NASA may have discovered the remains of the vehicle in a crater in which it appears to have crashed, Reuters reports.
The ill-fated Beagle 2 was due to bounce-down on the Red Planet on Xmas Day 2003, safely cushioned within a ball of airbags. However, after it separated from the mother ship, nothing more was heard. Now, NASA's Mars Global Surveyor has offered possible evidence of the fate of the £50m mission.
Pillinger explained to the BBC: "There is a lot of disturbance in this crater, particularly a big patch on the north crater wall which we think is the primary impact site.
"There are then other features around the crater consistent with the airbags bouncing around and finally falling down into the middle. Then, when you cut the lace, the airbags fall apart giving three very symmetrical triangles."
Pillinger added that "four roughly circular features to the right of the 'airbag' markings could be Beagle's unfolded solar panels".
The upshot of the evidence is that Beagle hit Mars too hard, and with a sideways motion rather than the planned vertical descent. Pillinger noted: "That may have damaged the lander so the lid didn't open properly and didn't release the antennae, so we couldn't get the signal."
The failure of Beagle 2 caused much recrimination and finger-pointing back in late 2003 and 2004. In November 2004, a House of Commons Select Committee for Science and Technology report concluded that the mission crashed and burned due to lack of proper funding. It said that "while the government was 'admirably enthusiastic' about the project, is was 'unable to respond to its relatively sudden emergence' with guaranteed sponsorship. As a consequence, the scientists had to spend time fundraising, rather than on designing and testing equipment." ®