Speak, Boy, Speak!
After being instructed to land on the surface of Mars Christmas
Day, the European Space Agency probe Beagle 2 has been ominously
silent. Still, flight controllers say they're optimistic the lander
is alive and well and will be able to start transmitting soon.
ESA officials had hoped Beagle 2 would send a signal to be
picked up by NASA's Mars Odyssey satellite orbiting overhead. But
NASA says it has received no signal from the European lander.
"This is not the end of the story – this was the first
opportunity," the European Space Agency's director of science,
David Southwood, said at mission control in Darmstadt, Germany.
"Getting signals back from Mars is not a straightforward operation.
We're sure Beagle is down on the surface, and we just need to hear
Controllers last heard from Beagle when it rounded the far side
of Mars. The signal was received by the lander's mothership,
Mars Express. That was just after 11:00 pm EST Wednesday night.
"At least the initial checks show that the spacecraft is in very
good condition," flight director Michael McKay said, to applause
"It's a bit disappointing, but it's not the end of the world.
Please don't go away from here believing we've lost the
spacecraft," Colin Pillinger, lead scientist on the Beagle 2
project, said in London.
The 143-pound lander was to have parachuted through the thin
Martian atmosphere. Before touchdown, it was to have deployed
airbags that surrounded the vehicle. The airbags would deflate
after cushioning Beagle 2's landing and the probe was to then send
a few musical notes composed by the British band "Blur" to confirm
it had made it to the surface safely.
Mars has proven especially inhospitable to human attempts at
exploration. A disappointing majority of the landers sent to Mars
have malfunctioned, crashed or been lost.
Closely behind the Mars Express mission are two NASA landers,
Spirit and Opportunity. They're scheduled to land on opposite sides
of the planet January 3rd and January 24th. In the meantime, NASA's
Mars Odyssey will continue listening for signs of life from Beagle
2 as the Mars Express spacecraft descends from its high initial
orbit to a point where it can also listen.