Open Eye: ESA gives green light to Beagle 2

The European Space Agency (ESA) has given the green light to Beagle 2, the British Mars lander vehicle being developed by a consortium led by the OU's Professor Colin Pillinger. The decision came at a meeting in Paris in November, when ESA also approved the European mission, Mars Express, which will carry Beagle 2 to the planet in 2004. Beagle's mission is to search for evidence of extra-terrestrial life, and its payload will include miniaturised scientific instruments designed and built by the Planetary Sciences Research Institute team at the OU.

ESA's decision means that Professor Colin Pillinger and the Beagle 2 consortium now have until next year to raise the remainder of the pounds 25 million needed to build the lander vehicle.

Among Beagle's supporters are musicians from the band Blur, who will provide the soundtrack for a computer-generated simulation of Beagle 2's landing. Blur bassist Alex James and drummer Dave Rowntree (pictured above) met Professor Pillinger to view a model of Beagle 2. Both have a longstanding interest in space and Alex James has reportedly described Beagle's mission to search for life as `sexy'.

But ESA's approval doesn't guarantee plain sailing for the Beagle 2 project. ESA will assess the whole mission again at the end of 1999 before giving scientists and engineers the go-ahead to start building the spacecraft.

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