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SCI/TECH: European Mars mission criticized by spending watchdog

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posted on Mar, 16 2004 @ 01:08 PM

When scientists asked funs for the British-built Mars lander they neglecting to highlight the chances of mission failure. The British governement wasted more than 22 million pounds ($40 million) in Europe's first attempt to land a probe on the Red Planet.

Beagle 2 -- Europe's first attempt to land a probe on the Red Planet -- was designed to search for clues of life on Mars. The tiny lander was due to spend six months probing and analyzing rocks and soil with its robotic arm, sending back data via the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter.

Mission controllers now believe its likely that the lander crash-landed on the Red Planet on Christmas Day, probably because the atmosphere was less dense than expected.

The report by the National Audit Office found that the potential of Beagle 2's protective air bags failing at the point of impact had been identified early in the project and work was done to reduce the risk.

But when the British National Space Center Partnership made its bid for funding, it emphasized the potential benefits rather than the risk of failure, the audit office said.

"In the written submissions appraising the case for supporting the project, BNSC did not discuss the material risks to success alongside the costs and benefits," the report said.

"The risks, and steps taken to mitigate these risks, which had been fully considered, should have been covered in the formal appraisal submissions," it added.

The audit office said that the cost of Beagle 2 rose from an estimated 27 million pounds ($49 million) when expedition leaders first applied for funding in 1997 to a final total of 44 million pounds ($80 million).

The audit office report did praise the mission for delivering significant benefits to British space exploration by advancing technology on the miniaturization of instrumentation and robotics.

"The Partnership should better identify how it intends to benefit from the increased activity undertaken by the European Union in space, minimize project risk by early involvement in implementation, and better measure the benefits that space investment brings to the United Kingdom," said Auditor-General Sir John Bourn.

Professor Colin Pillinger, the lead scientist on the expedition, is already canvassing for more funds and sponsorship for a revival of Beagle 2 _ he wants another mission sending more than one probe to Mars as early as 2007.

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[Edited on 16-3-2004 by Zion Mainframe]

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