3 October 2007

Show and tell - the Beagle legacy

The book I'm holding here is a limited first edition copy of Beagle: From sailing ship to Mars spacecraft.
Photo by Dan Garrison.

The book was hand-delivered to me by Dan Garrison, Chief Scientist for NASA's Astromaterial Research & Exploration Science (ARES) Directorate, as a gift of goodwill from the author, Professor Colin Pillinger CBE FRS, planetary scientist at the Open University and principal investigator for the Beagle 2 Mars lander project. The first edition is out of print, so the rest of you will have to settle for this version published by Faber & Faber, called Beagle: From Darwin's epic voyage to the British mission to Mars:


But when I use the word "settle" it's only in the na-na-na- I've-got-a-first-edition-copy sense, because regardless of publisher the book is a beautifully choreographed side-by-side comparison of the stories of the HMS Beagle of the 1830's and the Beagle 2 Mars lander which ended up crashing into the surface of Mars on Christmas Day 2003 before it could go about its business discovering life there. The loss was dolefully recorded thus in the last entry on the dedicated Beagle 2 website:
Beagle 2 was due to land on Mars on 25th December 2003. The spacecraft was successfully ejected from Mars Express on 19th December 2003. Nothing has been heard from Beagle 2 and the mission is presumed lost.
Pain. But the story's not over yet. All signs are that the Beagle 2 will fly again, this time in an international collaboration with NASA to look for water on the south pole of the moon. This new mission might just culminate in 2012, right about the same time our replica Beagle sails back home with a boatload of new species and freshly minted scientists. How's that for coincidence?

Postscript: Lest someone give me undue credit, the phrase "freshly minted scientists" belongs without a shadow of a doubt to Peter Mc.

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