The Corner

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Has The Beagle Landed?


Also in the Old Country: a mixture of amusement and consternation over the (presumed) fate of the Beagle 2 – our mission to Mars. The spacecraft was never large to begin with (about the size of a lampshade: one of my brothers described the whole project as being the equivalent of throwing a small pie in the direction of the Red Planet and hoping for the best), and now it has disappeared.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, William Langley exults as follows:

“It is possibly too early for condolences, but let me offer Prof Pillinger some consolation. Had everything gone to plan, and had the Beagle landed as sweetly as a robin on a garden spade, hardly anyone in Britain would have noticed. As it is, the professor – a West Country gas-fitter’s son, reared on the adventures of Dan Dare – has become an overnight celebrity and the whole country has been stirred by the story of The Little Spacecraft That Couldn’t.

“Always uncomfortable with the idea of success, the British are able to look upon the Beagle as a kind of an interplanetary version of Tim Henman, whose orbit of the tennis circuit you can usually track only through small-type sports page headlines along the lines of “Luckless Henman crashes out in Tashkent”. Then, once a year, Tim manages to make his rendezvous with Wimbledon and does quite well, but not well enough to embarrass us by winning anything. Good chap…This is how it is when Britain flaunts its genius before the world. The Beagle was knocked together in a backroom for less money than a Space Shuttle pilot would pay to have his windscreen cleaned. Not since Eddie the Eagle has anything made in Britain taken to the air with slimmer chances of success…”

Oh well.