There have been a lot of Mars missions over the years, and the vast majority of those did not end well. Now, we might finally know what downed Europe’s first Mars lander.
The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Beagle 2 lander was sent to the Red Planet in 2003 with a goal of searching for life. The mission seemed to go off without a hitch, but after the lander seemingly settled down for a soft landing, it never called back home. Scientists spent the better part of a decade trying to figure out what happened, and the lander was finally spotted by satellites last year. It looked to be relatively intact, which made the mission’s failure all the more maddening.
So the Beagle 2’s former mission manager Mark Sims decided to keep digging, and teamed up with a computer modeling expert to start building some composites of the landing site in an effort to recreate it and figure out what happened. It took a lot of trial and error, but after comparing shots of the actual lander bathed in sunlight with shots of the modeled lander bathed in sunlight, they came to the realization that one of the lander’s solar panels failed to open correctly.
They launched it from Earth, made the trip to Mars, and successfully landed the rig on another planet. Then a minor technical problem where a lid cover didn’t lift correctly derailed the entire multimillion dollar mission.
Did we mention space is hard?