A few minutes ago, Beagle 2's trajectory intersected with the surface of Mars. If all went well, it did so fairly gently; as Colin Pillinger put it as he talked a room full of us through the sequence in real time, the final drop when the airbags burst is "like pushing your computer off a desk". If all didn't go well, then it was a bit more like dropping your computer off a cliff, out of the back door of an airliner, or from the airlock of a space shuttle. As of now, we don't know. We all clapped at the appropriate moment, though -- who wouldn't?
There are about 60 of us here now, mostly journalists but a fair few people who have worked on the project and a couple of pop stars -- Michelle Klaas and someone from Blur whose name I don't remember (no, I didn't know who Michelle Klaas was -- I had to ask. Note added later -- she's actually called Myleene Klass, so I didn't ask very well) In a strange usurpation of the real, we spent the minutes while Beagle was plunging through the atmosphere watching a simulation of what was going on, Beagle being in complete radio silence at the moment. (If things do turn out to have gone wrong -- if Beagle never speaks to us again -- that silence will make a post mortem more or less impossible, since it will be all but impossible to know what actually went wrong where.) We've all seen the animation, or very similar animations, before, but knowing that it was synchronised to what should be going on over Mars, and watching it as part of an event definitely added something to the occasion. Colin's shouted corrections to Pallab Ghosh's commentary for BBC radio also added something:
PG, dramatically: "Beagle 2 is now glowing red hot..."
CP, shouting from the other side of the room: "No, not yet!"
Above Mars, Mars Express has lit its engines to go into orbit. We'll hear whether that rocket burn has been successful at about 04.30; word from Beagle should come back about two hours later.
Meanwhile we're all, in Colin's words, "reliving a moment that might be happening" as the real-time-synched documentary shows Beagle's first activities as they should be (literally) unfolding. It's like an interplanetary Schrodinger's cat: at the moment, Beagle is a superposition of success and failure, the two states unresolved and unresolvable. All we can do is watch what should be happening and wait.