MPs to question key players in Beagle mission

MPs are to quiz key government scientists to find out what went wrong with the Beagle 2 mission to Mars.

MPs are to quiz key government scientists to find out what went wrong with the Beagle 2 mission to Mars.

Following the failure of an independent inquiry to fully publish its report on the mission this week - only four copies were produced because of claims its findings were "commercially sensitive" - the House of Commons science and technology committee is to question the main players involved. It is also demanding to see the document.

Beagle 2 was designed to look specifically for signs of life on the red planet. It is believed the probe landed on Mars on Christmas Day last year, but sent no signal back. In February, scientists and engineers accepted their £22m mission was lost.

On Monday the European Space Agency (ESA) published its recommendations following the mission - but not the inquiry's analysis of what went wrong. MPs want to know whether a lack of financial commitment to the project from government played a part in its failure.

Today, Ian Gibson, the committee's chairman, told he intended to call the head of the project, Professor Colin Pillinger, and officials from the Department of Trade and Industry, the ESA, the Office for Science and Technology and the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council.

"We're looking to see what support the government departments did or didn't give to the enterprise," said Mr Gibson. "We're not worried about the technical difficulties, we want to know whether we were playing big time or just playing. If not enough resources went in that's unforgivable and we want to know.

"This is a key inquiry in relation to whether or not there will be a Beagle 3. We need to get this clear."

He added that the committee was pressing to receive a full copy of the report, even if it had names blanked out to protect commercial interests. "The suspicion is that it hides something else. In the interest of openness and transparency, we need to see this," he said.

Evidence for the committee's inquiry should be submitted by June 21. The first evidence session is planned for the beginning of July.


Polly Curtis

The GuardianTramp

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