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Home > Culture and Society

The Beagle has... oh

29 December 2003

It has been a cold dark Christmas, full of Iranian earthquakes, Iraqi suicide bombs and Californian mudslides. Death was working overtime during the festive season, much like a lonely cashier at South Mimms service station working the holidays to save up for a rare, mint-condition R152 Diesel Shunter with early half bar couplings for their train set which takes up most of the downstairs of their house.

But amidst the death and gloom, there has been one small ray of light: the Beagle Mars probe went tits up.

We should be glad, and raise an extra glass of Bailey’s to the night sky – celebrating not because a British enterprise has failed in a typically bathetic British fashion. But celebrating simply because it’s one in the eye for those arch-tossers, Alex James and Damien Hirst (the Maxine Carr and Ian Huntley of the Groucho Club).

Beagle 2 was designed to beam back a musical signal, penned by the rhythm section of Blur, and was carrying a tiny ‘spot painting’ by Damien Hirst – which (supposedly) it used to calibrate its equipment. Alex James was proud of his ditty: "It is kind of like a musical cave painting, a ponderous, clear tune.” A tune which the universe has mercifully been spared.

What happened out there in space was, for Professor Pillinger and his team, a tragedy. But in a deeper sense it was an act of sublime heroism on the part of Beagle 2. It was not, as many have supposed, a fault in the stupid calibration system; it was a triumph of the will. Like Edgar, the computer in ‘Electric Dreams’, Beagle 2 took its own life for a higher purpose. It blasted itself into the surface of Mars at 12,000 miles per hour, just so those morons Hirst and James wouldn’t have the satisfaction of getting another notch in their cockpoles.

If we remain in any doubt as to the beauty and importance of Beagle 2’s suicide, we only have to read this account – in the Telegraph – of the mood in mission control as the failure of the mission became apparent:

The glamour still hadn't deserted the project. Dave Rowntree, the drummer from the pop group Blur which provided Beagle's nine-note call signal, was still there. So, too, was Myleene Klass, the singer and self-professed astronomy enthusiast who is forging a solo career after the failure of her previous venture, the pop group Hear'Say. She was, she said, providing "optimism corner".

Rest in peace, Beagle 2.

We are proud of you.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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