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Sunday, August 11, 2002

Beagle 2 Construction Started

Beagle 2.
Beagle 2.
Credit: ESA
(CNN) - Taking a leap forward in the study of Mars, European engineers began construction on the Beagle 2, a lander slated to hit the red planet in 2003. The robot craft will probe rocks, dig into the soil and sniff the air, checking for organic matter and other life-related chemical compounds like atmospheric methane. The Beagle 2, named after Charles Darwin's sea ship HMS Beagle, will hitch a ride with the Mars Express, a European Space Agency craft that will orbit the red planet. "We hope that when it arrives on Mars at the end of next year, we will finally be able to answer the eternal question: Is there, or was there, life on Mars." said Colin Pillinger, a British scientist involved in the Beagle 2 mission: "The assembly room will keep Beagle 2 free of terrestrial microorganisms and other forms of contamination," Pillinger, an Open University professor, said. "We don't want to contaminate the planets we go to," said John Bennett, a team scientist with ESA's Mars Express project. A handful of planet researchers speculate that it could have already happened, since numerous Russian and U.S. landers have touched down on Mars since the 1970s.

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- posted by Alex @ 16:16 EST