Beagle 2 - a Lesson in Science Communication: Have You Heard of Beagle 2? It Is Our Ambition to Have Everybody in the Country Aware of the Project When It Lands on Mars at Xmas 2003. (the Physics of the Universe)

New Statesman (1996), May 20, 2002 | Go to article overview

Beagle 2 - a Lesson in Science Communication: Have You Heard of Beagle 2? It Is Our Ambition to Have Everybody in the Country Aware of the Project When It Lands on Mars at Xmas 2003. (the Physics of the Universe)


For those who don't know already, it's a joint effort between British academics and our space industry to answer age-old questions concerning life on the Red Planet -- does it, did it, could it exist? A positive answer would be the vital first step in addressing an even more fundamental puzzle -- are we alone in the universe?

Beagle 2 is named to honour the ship which took charles Darwin around the world in the 1830s and led to the writing of On the Origin of Species. HMS Beagle and her achievements in terms of exploration and science are still remembered 170 years later.

When we first proposed the idea of Britain building a Mars lander and its instruments, we had no funds for the multimillion-pound endeavour. The European Space Agency, the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research council and the British National Space centre all said it was "a wild scheme -- no good would come of it", practically quoting Darwin's long-suffering father. Darwin's cause was championed by his Uncle Josiah Wedgwood and father relented; we launched a public awareness campaign which has seen us answer nearly 2,000 enquiries since 1997.

It was our choice: we did not wait for the media to come to us, we went to them. As a result, Beagle 2 has been exhibited at the most unlikely venues -- no photo opportunity is missed. We've done television from The Big Breakfast to Newsnight and every news programme in between. The Beagle 2 team, with its "collection of multi-coloured jumpers and anoraks", had its own TV show, described by a critic as prime-time television in a late-night slot. The support of pop group Blur and artist Damien Hirst has meant we get into youth magazines and glossies as well as broadsheets.

But not once have we compromised our science and engineering integrity. We have sailed through reviews of our technical competence, including scrutiny by experts from NASA. As a result of all this effort, we got our money, some of it in the form of a loan which has to be paid back by commercial sponsorship.

Now perhaps Beagle 2 can undo some of the damage done to science credibility by BSE, GM foods, foot-and-mouth, etc. Beagle 2 has been established as totally media-friendly. …

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Beagle 2 - a Lesson in Science Communication: Have You Heard of Beagle 2? It Is Our Ambition to Have Everybody in the Country Aware of the Project When It Lands on Mars at Xmas 2003. (the Physics of the Universe)
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