The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee recently heard evidence from Colin Pillinger and other leaders.
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee recently heard evidence from Colin Pillinger and other leaders of the ill-fated Beagle 2 mission to Mars in an attempt to find out why the project had failed. Beagle 2 crashed without trace, and without an obvious explanation, in the opening hours of 2004.
Pillinger and colleagues at the European satellite company EADS Astrium, who part-managed the project, defended their funding structure - apparently based on a ’gentleman’s agreement’ - against accusations of amateurism from committee chairman Ian Gibson. Pillinger claimed that, despite the management structure for the project being run by both Astrium and the European Space Agency (ESA), ’it was absolutely clear the rules under which we were working’.
When asked what went wrong with the mission, Pillinger postulated that ’the atmosphere [of Mars] was thinner than we had anticipated’. David Southwood, who became director of ESA part-way through the project, admitted that ’by the time of the launch I thought the likelihood of failure was very high’. When challenged by members of the committee as to why he allowed the mission to continue, in spite of these doubts, he added: ’I think it was a wonderful mission. I think it was money well spent’. However, when describing the management of the project, he said that ’Colin Pillinger is the David Beckham, but not the Alex Ferguson’.
The Astrium team is keen to launch Beagle again, but whether the ESA will support such an attempt to carry a hitch-hiker just as their Mars Express mission carried Beagle 2 remains to be seen. As Southwood admitted, ’you can’t have two captains on the ship’.