Sun, Dec 28, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Disappointment mounts as no bark heard from Beagle

REUTERS , London

A British mission trying to find life on Mars suffered a third day of disappointment yesterday when its space probe again failed to send a signal to confirm it had landed safely.

The failure to pick up a signal from Beagle 2 has raised fears that the probe, no bigger than an open umbrella, may have suffered the same fate as so many craft before it and ended up as scrap metal strewn across the bleak Martian landscape.

"Tonight's scan for a signal from Beagle 2 by the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory was unsuccessful," mission organizers said on their website www.beagle2.com.

Of the previous 11 probes dropped on the red planet's surface, only three have survived and it is estimated that around two in every three Russian and U.S. missions to Mars have been whole or partial failures.

The 300 million euro (US$375 million) Beagle 2 is the first fully European mission to be sent to any planet and had been hailed as a triumph for British ingenuity and for European space exploration.

European Space Agency officials said on Friday they were still optimistic of finding the probe. There are 13 further scheduled transmissions before it goes into emergency auto-transmit mode.

The next chance was to come at 2:15pm yesterday Taiwan time, when scientists hoped the US satellite Mars Odyssey might detect a signal.

Beagle 2's failure to make contact soured Christmas and Boxing Day for scientists, who are trying to answer a question which has fascinated mankind for generations -- "Is there life on Mars?"

They gathered in London on Thursday and Friday, hoping to hear the probe broadcasting its signature tune -- composed for the occasion by pop group Blur -- across the 100 million kilometers from Mars.

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