Can rover sniff out life on Mars?

PUBLISHED: 14:35 25 May 2006 | UPDATED: 10:14 06 May 2010

FIRST it was Beagle 2 that put Stevenage on the map of space exploration. Now aerospace company EADS-Astrium hopes to redeem itself after that failure with the rover, a robot vehicle it is hoped will crawl across the surface of Mars at little more than a

FIRST it was Beagle 2 that put Stevenage on the map of space exploration.

Now aerospace company EADS-Astrium hopes to redeem itself after that failure with the rover, a robot vehicle it is hoped will crawl across the surface of Mars at little more than a snail's pace.

Beagle 2 vanished without trace minutes before it was due to land on the Martian landscape on Christmas Day 2003 leaving red faces at EADS-Astrium followed by a further rebuke in a later report saying the project was flawed and under-funded.

Now, though, the rover, which is costing £154m, has shown it has the technology and the ability to crawl on Mars by completing a series of tests on a mountain top in Tenerife.

The landscape around the summit of Mount Teide, the world's third largest volcano that last erupted in 1909, proved the perfect obstacle course and, after a week crawling around the barren, rock-strewn tundra, the two Stevenage engineers who carried out the experiments reported they were satisfied with rover.

The vehicle is a prototype of the vehicle that will be sent off in the direction of the Red Planet some time in 2011 and is the central feature in the European Space Agency's £400m project known as ExoMars.

The rover is a six-wheeled device that may answer many of the questions about Mars including is there life on the planet?

With a top speed of just one tenth of a mile an hour, rover was put through its paces by the two scientists like children with a hand-controlled vehicle, according to one witness to the trials.

"For a prototype it worked very well," said project head Lester Waugh.

"It demonstrated its capabilities very well and now we have to work further on the semi-autonomous navigation system and the other science packages including the instruments that will hopefully, scan, drill and sample the Martian surface."

With the same team that gave life to Beagle 2 now working on the rover, there would be cause to celebrate if it actually got to Mars and would prompt a major party at the EADS-Astrium site in Gunnels Wood Road if it found its Stevenage mate Beagle 2.


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