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NASA gives Beagle 2 another shot at glory

Green lights lunar mission study

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

"It'll be like Steve Fossett all over again, only worse," said one embittered Reg hack on hearing the news that NASA has decided to send Beagle to the moon.

Yes, Beagle, the little lander that either couldn't, wouldn't or didn't, manage to land on Mars might be about to be resurrected and packed off to the Moon.

In its report on NASA's decision The Guardian delightfully observes that: "If the mission is approved it will need a very different landing strategy to the one probably responsible for Beagle 2's failure on Mars."

(We realise this is because of the atmosphere vs no atmosphere thing, but it sounds wonderful doesn't it? Hmm, that probe that probably crashed? Might have to rethink the landing.)

Let us recap. Beagle 2, named for the ship that so famously carried Darwin on his inspiring voyage to the Galapagos islands, was designed to land on Mars and send back all kinds of useful data. Nice idea. But it was massively underfunded, and put together on far too tight a schedule.

It hitched a ride to Mars on board the Mars Express craft, and was due to land on the red planet on Christmas day, 2003. Mars Express managed to eject the lander on schedule, but from there it all went horribly wrong, and the little lander hasn't been heard from since.

Professor Colin Pillinger (he of the sideburns) almost immediately began campaigning for NASA to try again, to take Beagle 2, Mark 2, to Mars. But NASA wasn't playing, and ruled out a second take.

Now it seems the space agency has relented and agreed to give Beagle and Pillinger another chance. It has okayed a feasibility study that would work out how to adapt the lander for lunar exploration. The hope is that Beagle 2 could dig into the lunar surface and find water ice.

"We have got to get into these areas that are permanently shaded and cold," Prof Pillinger told The Graun. "These are the areas in which water could be trapped."

Beagle would probably be sent to the lunar south pole, where the temperature is a balmy 240° below zero. It might also be aimed at a shaded crater, also a super chilly environment.

If NASA formally approves the plans to modify the lander, Beagle 2 could be heading for the moon as early as 2012. ®

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