Colin Pillinger dead: Planetary scientist known for Britain's Beagle 2 Mars mission, dies aged 70

The scientist suffers from a fatal brain haemorrhage
  • @jjvincent

Colin Pillinger, the British planetary scientist best known for his involvement with the Beagle 2 Mars mission, has died age 70, his family have said.

Professor Pillinger died in Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge after suffering a brain haemorrhage in his home and falling into a deep coma.

His family have described his death as “devastating and unbelievable” in a statement. Pillinger, who was awarded the CBE in 2003, is survived by his wife Judith and a son and a daughter.

Pillinger’s first job was with the US space agency Nasa where he analysed samples of lunar rock returned to Earth by the Apollo 11 astronauts.

He later became a professor at the Open University where he convinced the European Space Agency to include a lander on their 2 June 2003 Mars Express mission.

The Beagle 2 was named after HMS Beagle, the boat that carried Charles Darwin during two of the expeditions that would lead to his theory of natural selection.

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“HMS Beagle was the ship that took Darwin on his voyage around the world in the 1830s and led to our knowledge about life on Earth making a real quantum leap. We hope Beagle 2 will do the same thing for life on Mars,” said Pillinger.

Unexpected support for the first British-built interplanetary spacecraft came from the rock band Blur (who also wrote a song that would act as the call-sign for the craft) while a last-minute £5 million grant from then-science minister Lord Sainsbury ultimately saved the project.

Although the craft succesfully deployed from the Mars Express Orbiter in December 2003, confirmation of a successful landing never came and an inquiry into the craft's failure outlined a number of possible scenarios, noting that failed Mars missions are common.