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Frderick Thurber


I do not know the specifics and can only speculate, but it appeared to me that before the "landing" Colin was much more interest in the science aspect of the lander instead of the engineering part. I suspect that most of the work on Beagle went into jamming as much instrumentation into the lander at the expense of EDL engineering and testing. The loss of the Beagle 2 is a great tragedy because it would have openned an inexpensive path to Mars. In the unlikely even that England ever attempts to land on Mars again, I hope the learn from thei mistake and put most of their engineering effort into EDL and testing. The curious thing is that Nasa/JPL learned to do just this after the failure of the Polar lander, but for some reason Colin et. al. decided to ignore this lesson.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden

Do you mean his aside about the National Front? That's certainly what leapt out at me--a genuinely over-the-top not-funny accusation, comparable to that Bush Administration official calling the teachers' union a "terrorist organization."

(Though I have to tell you, without your semi-endorsement I would have stopped reading after the guy outed himself as a crank anti-Stratfordian.)

Oliver Morton

Yes, it was the NF thing I was referring to. I kind of took the Shakespeare thing to be a joke I didn't get (and I wasn't feeling too bad about that) but you may be right in thinking it sincere...

There'll be a Beagle post-mortem/prospects-of-reflight meeting in London next week. I'll try and get along and blog it.

Bruce Moomaw

Bell is a sort-of sidekick of mine; as fellow writers for "SpaceDaily" (I was the one who got him into it), we have very frequent E-mail discussions in which we click our tongues to each other about the stupidity and moral depravity of the current American manned space program. I will agree, though, that he tends to go over the top in his personal attacks; he's always enthusiastically embraced the role of the Terrible Tempered Mr. Bang of Planetary Science. (You should have seen the original before I told him to tone it down -- including the passage in which he compared Pillinger to Doctor Who. Unfortunately, I overlooked the National Front reference.)

Anyway, I think Oliver's "Prospect" piece is terrific (as does Bell). I also think his January "National Geographic" Mars article is terrific -- as well as being the most utterly up-to-date planetary science article I have ever seen, anywhere, at any time, in a mass-market publication. But then, I have yet to see anything he's ever done anywhere that didn't strike me as top-notch.

I wish I had some advance word on tomorrow's Meridiani press conference, but they're keeping the revelations firmly under wraps. Some indications I'm seeing in the raw photos from the rover, though -- all of which have been released, although without commentary -- lead me to suspect that it may not only have discovered evidence of Noachian surface liquid water on Mars; it just may have found signs of small amounts of liquid water trickling out of the surface of the rock outcrop RIGHT NOW (although this may be just atmospheric water vapor condensing in the rock's pores). We'll see whether I've guessed right.


Bruce Moomaw

P.S.: I'm not sure whether the Shakespeare thing is a joke or not. One comment he's dropped to me suggests that he really may have Edward de Vere pegged as the real author, but I'm not sure he wasn't fooling.

Bruce Moomaw

And I agree with Fred Thurber about the trouble with Beagle -- the science payload was splendid, but the spacecraft carrying it was utterly crappy: pathetically underfunded and undertested. And Pillinger DOES have a very strong streak of megalomania in him; he was constantly going on before the landing about Those Stupid Americans and how they lacked the imagination to realize that you could do Great Things in Mars exploration for only a tiny fraction of the money NASA was spending to build its Mars landers. My God, he even proposed - repeatedly -- a complete Mars sample return mission in which the lander (complete with the Mars ascent rocket to launch the sample back into Mars orbit) was based on a SLIGHTLY enlarged version of Beagle 2! (Abstracts on request.)

I wish Beagle's science payload had been carried on Mars Pathfinder, instead of that revoltingly cute but scientifically rather unproductive little rover. We would already know a hell of a lot more about Mars than we do now, had this been done.

Oliver Morton

Bruce, I'm sorry you cut out the Dr Who reference -- indeed, it might be a viable future option. The BBC is currently casting a new series of Dr Who, and if Pillinger were to get the role it might avert all sorts of future mischief (Bill Nighy, who played the aging rocker in "Love Actually" is a more likely prospect).

I'm not sure you're right, though, about Sojourner. Scientifically unproductive, yes -- but in terms of making Mars exploration a web-mediated reality to many many people I think it was crucial. If Pathfinder had just sat there sniffing and occasionally grinding things (that's assuming the Beagle package would actually have worked) it would have been a lot less of an impetus to the program. (If it had found methane, things would be different, I agree). And I don't know enough of the athena/MER history to know whether Sojourner development was crucial to getting them working, but surely it helped at least a little...

Bruce Moomaw

Actually, when you get right down to it, Pillinger would make an excellent Dr. Who -- even his obsession with soccer is exactly the sort of eccentricity we've come to expect from the Doctor ("Fasinating Earth game...") All we need to do now is find a fetching young female companion for him -- maybe Helen Sharman, Britain's first astronaut (albeit in an incredibly unlikely and humiliating way). Jeffrey Bell, of course, would be the Master, complete with acid sarcasm.

There is one problem, though: Beagle 2 failed because the project turned out to be smaller on the inside than it looked on the outside. And it seems unlikely to me that Pillinger will ever be able to regenerate it...

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