Though the U.S. has a couple of little craft kicking around the Red Planet, the European Space Agency’s own Mars mission didn’t turn out quite as successful. But we’ve finally found Beagle 2.
The European Space Agency’s Beagle 2 lander appeared to successfully deploy on Dec. 25, 2003, but never made radio contact back with Earth. It was headed toward Isidis Planitia, a large basin near the planet’s equator. After two months of searching, the ESA finally declared the lander lost and moved on to other initiatives (like landing on an asteroid, along with another Mars mission for 2018).
Fast-forward almost 12 years, and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has finally tracked down the coffee-table-sized lander. The satellite spotted the lander, along with what appears to be its back cover and parachute, resting on the Martian surface. Scientists believe the lander made it safely to the planet but failed to deploy fully for some unknown reason.
The Beagle 2 team has spent the past decade wondering what exactly happened to the project they’d devoted so many years to develop, and though it obviously didn’t go as planned, Beagle 2’s mission manager Mark Sims told the BBC the find at least brings some closure:
“Christmas day 2003 was a real disappointment … so I’ve always wondered every Christmas day since what happened to Beagle 2. We’ve now got very good evidence that it made it successfully to the surface of Mars, which is amazing.”
Check out a NASA video breaking down the evidence below:
(Via The Verge)