Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Have a Very Martian Christmas

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Have a Very Martian Christmas

Article excerpt

Pictures of Mars have been received from the mothership carrying Beagle 2, the British probe due to land on the Red Planet on Christmas Day and search for life.

The images from Mars Express, captured from a distance of 3.36 million miles, were taken to test the European Space Agency craft's high-resolution camera.

Mars Express will use the camera to take close-up pictures of the Martian surface once it begins orbiting the planet.

The test is one of a series of checks and rehearsals before the start of a critical series of manoeuvres on December 19.

Beagle 2 will then be "spun out" from the Mars Express and start heading independently towards the planet.

Gaele Winters, director of technical operations at the European Space Agency's control centre in Darmstadt, Germany, said: "We will have to carry out some very precise navigational operations. There is a certain level of tension in the centre."

Both spacecraft are due to arrive at their destination on Christmas Day.

While Mars Express fires its main engine to go into Martian orbit, Beagle 2 will head for a landing site within a large impact basin near the planet's equator.

Scientists believe that long ago the Isidis Planitia region may have been covered with water. It is therefore a good place to look for evidence that life once existed on Mars, or might even still survive there.

Beagle 2 will collect rock, soil and air samples and analyse them in an on-board laboratory for chemical signs of life.

Meanwhile, Mars Express will carry out a detailed survey of the planet from the sky, using powerful radar to search for any water trapped underground.

Last month Mars Express, launched into space by a Russian rocket on June 2, weathered a solar storm caused by high energy particles from eruptions on the sun.

The spacecraft's computers were temporarily disrupted but returned to normal once the storm had passed.

Flight officials said Mars Express had also suffered a drop in electrical power to about 70pc of what was expected but did not think this would derail the mission. …

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