The Beagle 2 Mars lander deployed on Christmas Day 2003. The hope was that the small ship would make it through the atmosphere, land and unfurl an array of sensors to being studying our nearest planetary neighbour. The project’s principle investigator was British scientist Colin Pillinger who threw himself headlong at both the science and the chance to connect with an audience about it. He commissioned Damien Hirst to produce the image that would calibrate the probe’s cameras and had a song by Blur lined up as the probe’s aural handshake once it landed. He was, briefly, the leading figure of Britpop science.
That changed when Beagle 2 never made contact. The probe was assumed destroyed and the usual, comfortable beige duvet of ‘Well, at least we tried’ that gets drawn over any kind of British endeavour that isn’t an instant success was drawn over Beagle 2. Pillinger passed away last year.
The HIRISE camera system on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has not only found Beagle 2, but proof that it reached the surface intact and attempted to deploy.
A dustbin lid sized piece of science, found over a decade presumed dead. A final success, and a little closure, for a team of scientists who deserved much more than the pop culture ridicule they’ve suffered for a decade. I’d say that qualifies as a Sunday Moment of Zen.