NASA Finds Long-Lost Beagle 2 Mars Lander After More than a Decade
British Mars lander Beagle 2 was lost on Christmas day in 2003, and hasn't been heard from since. Now, new NASA photos from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show that the lander did, in fact, land on Mars, and has been hunkered down on the Red Planet for over a decade.
The lander successfully deployed from its mothership, the Mars Express, on December 19, 2003. It was expected to make contact with NASA's 2001 Mars Odyssey on December 25, but the confirmation never came. Scientists made further attempts to find the lander's signal for months, until finally concluding that the mission had been a "failure." Today, NASA published photos of Mars's surface in which the lander is clearly visible, proving that the mission was, in fact, a success.
"To be frank I had all but given up hope of ever knowing what happened to Beagle 2," said former Beagle 2 mission manager Mark Sims, a Professor at the University of Leicester, in the UK Space Agency statement. "The images show that we came so close to achieving the goal of science on Mars. The images vindicate the hard work put in by many people and companies both here in the UK and around Europe and the world in building Beagle 2."
The photos show that Beagle 2 reached Mars when it was supposed to, but encountered a problem when unfolding itself on the surface. It was only able to deploy a few of its solar arrays, which meant that the radio antenna it used to communicate with Earth was not exposed enough to send a signal. The lander was intended to study Martian geology, as well as search for possible signs of life on Mars, but never got the opportunity.
"The history of space exploration is marked by both success and failure," said UK Space Agency Chief David Parker. "This finding makes the case that Beagle 2 was more of a success than we previously knew and undoubtedly an important step in Europe's continuing exploration of Mars."