British planetary scientist Colin Pillinger has passed away. Pillinger, age 70, was best known as leading the 2003 attempt to land the Beagle 2 spacecraft on Mars, part of the European Space Agency’s Mars Express mission.
His family said in a statement: “It is with profound sadness that we are telling friends and colleagues that Colin, whilst sitting in the garden yesterday afternoon, suffered a severe brain hemorrhage resulting in a deep coma. He died peacefully this afternoon at Addenbrooke’s hospital, Cambridge, without regaining consciousness … We ask that all respect our privacy at this devastating and unbelievable time.”
While the Beagle 2 spacecraft failed and likely crashed on Mars, the mission was notable because it was the first time an individual researcher had sent their own vessel into space and the first British-built interplanetary spacecraft. However, a lack of funding meant the Beagle 2 project always struggled. The spacecraft did launch, but all contact with Beagle 2 was lost after its separation from the Mars Express spacecraft, just six days before atmospheric entry.
However, the BBC noted that the mission was “a turning point in bringing together the space science and industrial communities in the UK – which didn’t used to speak with one voice. Beagle-2 wasn’t built in Colin’s backyard: it was the product of UK brains and hard-work in many companies and universities.”