Image: Beagle 2
This artist's conception shows the Beagle 2 lander with its solar panels unfolded, its robotic arm at the ready and a burrowing sampler known as the Mole in action.
updated 2/11/2004 6:52:55 PM ET 2004-02-11T23:52:55

European scientists signaled the end of their hunt for the missing Beagle 2 Mars lander Wednesday by announcing an investigation into the disappearance of the British-built spacecraft.

“Whilst orbiting spacecraft continue to listen out for Beagle 2, the project has now officially moved on to assessing the possible reasons for the lack of communication,” said Colin Pillinger, the lead British scientist on the Beagle team.

Beagle 2, part of the European Space Agency’s Mars Express mission, was scheduled to land on the Red Planet on Dec. 25. The lander has not been heard from since it separated from the mother ship in mid-December, despite contact efforts by Mars Express, NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter and British and U.S. radio telescopes.

The investigation, to be conducted jointly by the British government and the European Space Agency, is routine following the loss of any spacecraft.

Looking for artifacts
“The inquiry could be greatly aided in its search for evidence if some Beagle 2 artifact, such as the parachute, can be identified by cameras scrutinizing the possible landing site,” Pillinger said.

The inquiry will look into the development, integration and testing of the Beagle 2 lander on Earth and during the flight.

It will also analyze the decision processes, funding levels, resources, management and responsibilities for the project.

The Mars Express mother ship has functioned as intended, orbiting the planet. Scientists said last month it found the most direct evidence yet of water on Mars in the form of ice, detecting molecules vaporizing from the Red Planet’s south pole.

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