ME and Ophelia

Friday, December 26, 2003

Mothership Mars Express to contact its "baby"

Scientists remain optimistic despite the silence. Further efforts will be made to contact Beagle 2: the British led exploration of Mars, when Nasa's Mars Odyssey craft passes over the landing zone at 1815 GMT tonight.

Even if Mars Odyssey fails tonight to capture and relay the Beagle 2 transmission, the search for the British lander will go on. Both Jodrell and Odyssey will have other opportunities in the coming days to sweep the Martian surface for signs of the 70-kg robotic probe. The Beagle 2 team have been offered the services of another large radio telescope at Stanford in California to assist the search.

The success of the European Space Agency's (Esa) Mars Express in obtaining an orbit around the Red Planet has certainly cheered European scientists as they endure the agony of waiting for word on Beagle 2. "The arrival of Mars Express is a great success for Europe and for the international science community. Now, we are just waiting for a signal from Beagle 2 to make this Christmas the best we could hope for," said David Southwood, head of Esa's science directorate.

Controllers at Esa's operations centre at Darmstadt, Germany, clapped and hugged each other when a big screen showed blips indicating they had regained the orbiter's data feed after it emerged from behind Mars following its first circle.

The orbit of Mars Express (Beagle 2's mothership) must now be refined so it can take up its science mission - and make contact with its "baby" if it truly is operational on the surface.

The leader of the Beagle 2 team, Professor Colin Pillinger speculated that there could be a problem with the clock which tells the Beagle 2 transmitter when to operate - so the researchers could have been listening for a signal at the wrong time. He said, "there is absolutely no doubt in the team's mind that Beagle is able to look after itself for 20 days, and probably more. So we're not concerned about not being able to contact it. If we can contact it, we can pull this thing round. But it's very much like... sending somebody a love letter. You know they've got it and you're waiting for their response."

# posted by Ingrid J. Jones @ 12/26/2003
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