Mon, Dec 22, 2003
Search For Life On Red Planet Begins Christmas Morning
As the European Mars
lander Beagle 2 speeds toward the surface of the Red Planet, the
lander's mothership, Mars Express, completed a critical orbital
insertion maneuver Saturday, designed to put it in orbit.
It apparently worked.
"Everything went normally and took place in a good atmosphere,"
European Space Agency spokesman Bernard von Weyhe said. "We are
looking forward to getting Mars Express into final orbit."
If there was any celebration, it was short-lived. There's just
too much work to do at the European Space Agency's mission control
center in the western German town of Darmstadt. Less than an hour
later, controllers went to work on the next set of maneuvers
designed to park the spacecraft in its final orbit.
Mars Express will orbit 250 miles above the surface as the
Beagle 2 lander will parachute through the thin Martian atmosphere
on Christmas day. As it approaches the surface, airbags positioned
on the outside of the lander will inflate, cushioning the payload
from the shock of landing.
Beagle 2 weighs a mere 143 pounds. Once on the surface, it will
deploy its robot arm to collect soil samples, then search those
samples for signs of life -- organic materials and water.
The orbit around Mars is becoming a busy place. Next month, two
NASA landers are expected to touch down on the surface of the red
planet, concentrating not on the search for life, but on the
Martian geography and the possibility of finding water. In the
meantime, a third US spacecraft continues to circle Mars, mapping
its surface in detail.
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