The UK's space programme suffered a serious setback yesterday when its most ambitious project since Beagle 2 ended in the loss of a 300g lump of Somerset farmhouse cheddar somewhere over the south of England.
According to news reports, the West Country Cheesemakers space cheese was hitched to a weather balloon and launched from Pewsey, Wiltshire, at 4am.
The plan was for the payload to ascend to the edge of space, where the weather balloon would burst. The cheddar would then float to Earth beneath a parachute, recording its trip on a digital camera and indicating its position to mission control via GPS.
Sadly, having reached an altitude of 18.6 miles, the cheese went off radar. West Country Cheesemakers' Dom Lane explained: "We've been tracking the trajectory and the current prediction is that it could land anywhere from here in Wiltshire to Hemel Hempstead.
"The GPS isn't coming through on the web so we might need help to find it because we're not sure where it is at the moment."
The loss of the cheese is a major blow to the UK's extraterrestrial ambitions, since the project cost £1,000, or around 95 per cent of Britain's space budget for the next five years.
The BBC has footage of the high-tech space cheese launch vehicle here. ®