Professor Colin Pillinger, famous for his work on failed Mars Lander Beagle 2, dies aged 70

Colin Pillinger, the driving force behind Beagle 2, Britain's only attempt at landing a probe on the surface of Mars, has died aged 70 at his Cambridge home.

In 2003 the space scientist embarked on an ambitious plan to 'piggy back' a small landing probe on the ESA Mars Express satellite. On a comparative shoe string budget, the project was launched with Pillinger naming the lander Beagle 2 inspired by Charles Darwin's HMS Beagle in the spirit of exploration and discovery.

Instrumentation onboard was extremely innovative and capable and aimed to confirm the presence of water, and perhaps even life - past or present.

It was a project that captured the imagination of the public and media becoming another potential example of British ingenuity triumphing against the odds. Ultimately, however, the probe was lost during descent to the red planet and the project largely marked as a failure.

Despite the failure, technology developed – in particular instrumentation – has been applied and inspired other space instruments, as well as the dogged philosophy that landing on Mars could be done for substantially less than the $1billion price tag of the US landers, with Beagle 2 having a budget of approximately $100million. Nevertheless it should be noted that landing on Mars is an extraordinarily difficult task and the success rate for Nasa at the time was less than 50%.

Perhaps Pillinger's biggest success was the inspiration to a generation students and engineers to dream of exploration and discovery, and that British ingenunity is alive and well, and still able to take on the odds without the financial backing that many big projects require today.

Author
Justin Cunningham

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