'Beagle' blasts off in first UK Mars mission

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Britain's first space mission to another planet successfully lifted off from the Baikonur launchpad in Kazakhstan last night on its 250 million-mile journey to Mars.

The Beagle-2 space probe, built almost entirely by British scientists, is hitching a ride on the European Space Agency's (ESA) Mars Express craft, which is due to arrive at the red planet in December. Everything went according to plan when the engines of the Soyuz-Fregat rocket fired up and lifted the Mars Express and Beagle-2 payloads into the night sky at 6.45pm British time.

But yesterday was the easy part - Soyuz rockets have a 97 per cent reliability record. The other end of the £30m probe's journey will be far more hazardous, as it detaches from its mother ship and a parachute and three gas-filled bags are deployed to soften its impact.

Beagle-2 will then, with luck, be able to begin its real mission - to search for the chemical signatures of life on Mars.