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OU Lecture 2007: The flight of Beagle 2

Updated Tuesday 26th June 2007

John Zarnecki's team contributed to the ill-fated Beagle 2 mission. What were they hoping to uncover on Mars, and what went wrong?

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Well, what other instruments have been dear to my heart? Well, I would like to say something about my involvement in the Beagle 2 mission to Mars, led of course by my colleague Colin Pillinger from the OU. It's something that I am very proud of but, as you know, our fingers weren't crossed tightly enough on that occasion. Now of course Beagle got as far as being released from orbit around Mars.

Everything was functioning well then. But we heard nothing more from it. We don't know what happened but surely some day we will find out. Nevertheless my team built a meteorological station or a weather station to go on Beagle. That was our contribution to it. It was to measure temperature, pressure, wind speed – I don’t know if you can see at the top sticking up there – that’s the wind sensor. It would have measured wind speed and wind direction on Mars. We would have measured dust impact and we would also have measured for the first time the ultra violet radiation. And all of that for 160 grams. What was tremendous about Beagle was the way that everybody managed to miniaturise their instruments – most of them are shown there – to fit in a very tight space.

Now one of our main aims with the Met Station was to measure something called Dust Devils. These are mini tornadoes and you can see this in this wonderful clip. This is from the Mars Exploration Rovers, which are operating on Mars at the moment. You can see these things dancing across the Martian desert. Some of you might have seen them. They exist on Earth. But on Mars we think they might be very significant as they might help to trigger the global dust storms which sometimes completely envelope Mars. But that’s not the end of the story because the technology that we developed for that weather station on Beagle we have adapted, we have taken further and we are currently building to put on this probe, this Rover, this is ExoMars which is Europe’s next mission to Mars and we are working on that in the labs across the road right now, launch in 2013, fingers crossed. And the chemistry set which was on Beagle which was going to look for signs of life on Mars is now being developed also here in the labs for a completely different purpose – to test for tuberculosis in some of the poorest parts of the Earth. So you can see that Space is about more than producing non-stick frying pans.

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With thanks to:

  • ESA
  • NASA

The Open University Lecture 2007

This is part seven of ten

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