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Monday, January 5, 2004

Last Hope for Beagle as Mars Express Achieves Orbit

Mars Express orbiter.
Mars Express orbiter.
Credit: ESA/Medialab
The European Space Agency announced Sunday that the Mars Express spacecraft has achieved orbit and will be ready to begin science operations in mid-January. This is the ESA's last chance to recover its silent lander that has failed to signal NASA's 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft or the Earth-bound Deep Space Network. Key to the ESA's hopes will be an extremely close pass of the Beagle 2 landing zone by the Mars Express on Wednesday. If the Beagle 2 is recovered, Europe will become the second nation to successfully land a craft on Mars.

The Mars Express is a powerful tool on its own. With its large scientific payload, including a high resolution stereo camera and spectrometers, it will contribute a great deal to our knowledge of the red planet. Most important for current studies is the MARSIS radar system, which can scan up to four kilometers below the surface of Mars to search for signs of subterranean water and ice. Armed with this knowledge along with the hydrogen maps produced by NASA orbiters, future colonists will have a much greater chance of obtaining water from the planet, an important requirement for most practical plans to live on Mars. There is also the hope that a water map of Mars would guide future explorers in their search for life.

(More info: European Space Agency)

- posted by Brian @ 22:16 EST