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Problems for the British Mars Lander

Britain is racing against time to complete the first European spacecraft to fly to Mars. Engineers are now working overtime on Beagle 2, worrying that the project is running behind schedule and over budget

The Beagle 2 spacecraft
The Beagle 2 spacecraft
British Mars lander Beagle. Named after the ship in which Darwin traveled around the world and in which he developed the theory of evolution

It would be a major embarrassment for Britain if the spacecraft planned to land on Mars remained on the launch pad. David Southwood, the science director at the European Space Agency ESA, says that the Mars Express spacecraft will take off with or without the Beagle on board.
At a press conference in Toulouse, France, Southwood said that the spacecraft must meet ESA criteria to be approved for launch.
"We have the first responsibility to get the Mars Express into orbit, he says. The second responsibility is to land the Beagle on Mars. The space agency limited the budget of the Beagle by the decision of the member states. It is not the responsibility of the European Space Agency to find additional funding, but only to check that the Beagle is indeed suitable for takeoff," he said.
The main person responsible for Beagle is the German government and I believe that in the coming weeks it will find more money," said Prof. Southwood.
The lander is part of the European mission to the Red Planet. The Mars Express spacecraft will release the Beagle and land it on the rocky surface of the planet Beagle's main mission will be to search for water and find signs of life - now or in the past.
The best launch time to leave Earth for Mars would be May-June 2003 when the position between the two planets would allow for the shortest journey. There won't be another chance until over two years later.
Prof Southwood says the Mars Express program has already adapted to Beagle 2's tight schedule.
"We will do everything so that we don't lose the window of time." says Colin Pillinger, director of the Beagle's construction team.
Beagle is currently being built at the UK Open University facilities in Milton Keynes where a sterile room has been prepared for the assembly area. It must be kept free from even terrestrial microorganisms and other possible contaminants.

The British lander must be ready in January and then it will be transported to the Russian launch site at Bikaner in Kazakhstan.
Mars Express is scheduled to be launched in May or June 2003 and will reach the Red Planet by Christmas. It will circle Mars and look for signs of water and life using seven scientific instruments and, as mentioned, it is also supposed to land the Beagle.
The American space agency, NASA, plans to launch a spacecraft and land on Mars around the same time.

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