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Sat, Dec 20, 2003

Beagle Separates From Mother Ship On Search For Life

Fetch, Boy, Fetch

Europe's Mars Lander separated from its mothership Friday, heading for touchdown on the Red Plane Christmas day (first Mars photo from Mars Express, below).

Michael McKay, mission manager for the Mars Express, confirmed the separation just after 6:00 am EST. Beagle-2 is on its way to search for signs of life on the fourth rock from the sun.

"The mother and baby are both doing well," David Southwood, director of science at the European Space Agency (ESA), said after the lander's separation was confirmed. "It's been a few tense hours."

The Mars Express mothership is now executing a complicated set of maneuvers that, if successful, will put it in orbit around the planet, where it will conduct radar surveys while Beagle-2 explores the surface. Beagle-2, meanwhile, will hopefully make a bouncy landing on the surface, its impact cushioned by airbags that will inflate around the vehicle. If its batteries charge enough to survive the frigid Martian night, Beagle will signal its mothership to say it's alive and ready to begin its search for life signs.

FMI: www.esa.int/export/SPECIALS/Mars_Express

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