NASA rules out Beagle resurrection

Static landers are soooo last season

NASA has rejected Professor Pillinger's proposal that the Beagle 2 science package should have a place on the US' mission to Mars in 2009.

At a press conference this morning, Professor Colin Pillinger said that the instrument package had been ruled out last week because, as a static lander, it didn't fit with NASA's philosophy of mobile exploration.

He defended Beagle 2, maintaining that it is the best instrument package available and should be sent back to the Red Planet. He said that although the lander was not built to explore the surface, it was designed to burrow into the ground. "This isn't static," he said. "We were going to be the first to go below the surface, to look under rocks. No one else is planning to send a drill to Mars."

He warned that the decision meant Europe would fall behind in space science, as no European mission is planned until after the US next go to the Red Planet.

Although the UK has agreed to join the European Space Agency's Aurora programme, the first Aurora demonstrator mission is scheduled for 2011, and the first science mission won't take place until 2013.

"Someone will have done the science by the time we get there in 2013," Pillinger said, "and I don't see the point in 'me too' science projects".

Professor Ian Halliday, chief executive of PPARC, the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, said that some kind of package would go up on the first test flights, but that details would be worked out later.

But Pillinger argues that the payload will be so small as to not be worth sending. "It will be a camera," he said. "So that Europe can show it's been to Mars."

Asked whether he thought NASA's rejection was politically motivated, Pillinger smiled. "I will say that if they take ours, they'd have to leave a US science package behind, so you'll have to draw your own conclusions on that," he said. "I'd expect my minister to make the same decision."

But Beagle may yet have another chance. Dr. Sarah Dunkin, vice president of the Royal Astronomical Society, said that a lander carrying the Beagle science package had not been ruled out. ®

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