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British Scientists Hope to Establish Contact with Mars Probe - 2003-12-25

British scientists can only wait and hope that they can establish contact with the unmanned Beagle 2 Mars probe later Thursday. The first opportunity came and went without any signal being detected from the Martian surface.

The British team in north London is refusing to give up hope.

The Beagle 2 lander successfully made the 50 million kilometer journey from Earth to Mars. It was jettisoned flawlessly from its main craft five days ago.

But upon entry, many things could have got wrong. The Beagle 2's parachutes may not have deployed properly, the probe's heat shield could have failed, or it may have been damaged when it reached the surface.

There is also the possibility it landed safely, and the signal simply was not picked up by the orbiting U.S. craft called Odyssey when it flew over the landing site. Scientists say it is also possible the Beagle 2 landed successfully, but in the wrong place.

The only thing the scientists know right now is that no transmission has yet been received, and they will continue to search for the craft.

But lead scientist Professor Colin Pillinger says further attempts at contact will have to wait until the next window of opportunity.

"We always thought we would put Beagle into hibernation, because we did not want to risk wasting any power during the first night," he said. "So, there is absolutely nothing we can do until we wake Beagle up, or the computer attempts to wake Beagle up tomorrow."

Mr. Pillinger says that attempt to detect a signal directly from the Beagle-2 will be made from a powerful radio telescope in Cheshire, England, which will scan for a transmission from the Martian surface.

"We will be trying to make contact with Beagle through Jodrell Bank," he explained. "We are still working on how long that window is, but it was originally set for using the time when Mars would be highest in the sky. It may be, we will try earlier than that."

If that fails other forms of contact will be tired. The Beagle 2's mothership, the Mars Express orbiter, will be in a position to receive data transmissions in early January.

But the record of various attempts to land unmanned spacecraft on Mars is not good. Of the more than 30 missions launched to the Red planet since the 1960s, most have ended in failure.