Eleven years after the Beagle 2 spacecraft disappeared on Mars, NASA’s orbiting reconnaissance satellite has snapped photos of what appears to be the Beagle 2’s hull in the dusts of the Red Planet.
One hundred and eighty years ago the HMS Beagle left Plymouth, England, carrying a young and naïve Charles Darwin. By 1870 – forty years later – the Beagle had been dismantled and Darwin was no longer naïve but brimming with ideas and works like On the Origin of Species that would forever change the way humans viewed their place in the cosmos.
Fourteen years ago, in 2000, a spacecraft was being conceived for a new voyage. The craft was being sent to Mars to search for signs of extraterrestrial life. It would land on the Martian surface, take samples of the atmosphere, and drill into the earth to analyse its composition.
The project was led by Professor Colin Pillinger who brought together a variety of European teams to design and build the craft. When it came to naming the new spacecraft, Professor Pillinger explained “HMS Beagle was the ship that took Darwin on his voyage around the world in the 1830s and led to our knowledge about life on Earth making a real quantum leap. We hope Beagle 2 will do the same thing for life on Mars”.
To garner attention for the Beagle 2, the first British craft to land on Mars, British artists contributed their art to the mission: Blur created a nine-note melody that the Beagle 2 would beam back to Earth upon successful landing on Mars, while artist Damien Hirst painted the calibration image for the Beagle 2’s onboard equipment.
After years of planning and a five month voyage through space, the Beagle 2 was deployed. It descended into the Martian atmosphere on Christmas 2003. Mission control awaited Beagle 2’s call signal, Blur’s nine notes. After days it became less likely that the Beagle 2 would be analysing the chemistry of the new world. By February 2004, the Beagle 2 was declared lost and never heard from again.
Never heard from again…until yesterday, January 16 2015, when the craft was photographed, gleaming from the red dusts of Mars.
The craft appears to be intact. Since the Beagle 2 needed to unfurl its petal-like components before radio-contacting Earth, the team suspects one of the petals did not deploy properly, thus blocking the radio transmission.
In light of this amazing discovery (or rediscovery) Mark Sims, the mission manager, suggested that Blur’s melody “probably played on Mars”. This makes the first nine notes of this song, the first tune to be beamed from Mars back to the Earth:
The craft is thought to contain viable data, which must be retrieved manually due to the blocked radio transmissions — a voyage for the Beagle 3, perhaps? Darwin would certainly have been on board.