MAN WITH A MISSION
|Professor Colin Pillinger dreams
Inside Out meets Bristol’s man of the moment
- Space Chemist, Professor Colin Pillinger.
Get inside his Mars mission, inspirations and
Professor Pillinger is an unlikely-looking hero.
The Los Angeles Times - which clearly has fixed ideas
about what a hero should look like - is perplexed by his appearance.
|Profile: Colin Pillinger
Date of birth: May 9 1943
Place of birth: Kingswood, Bristol.
Education: Kingswood Grammar School and
Family: Wife, Dr Judith Pillinger, is also
a space scientist working on Beagle 2 project. Their
daughter Shusanah is also working on the team. The couple also have
"A scruffy bespectacled space chemist with Elvis sideburns
and long hair who dreams of finding life on Mars in between feeding cows
on his farm."
Unlike other dreamers, Pillinger is not afraid to attempt
to turn his dreams into reality. Even if his dreams reach as far as landing
a spacecraft on Mars.
That’s a trick no European has ever pulled off before.
Pillinger is the head of Planetary and Space Sciences
Research Institute at the Open University. He is the man behind the Beagle
2 mission to land a scientific probe on the Martian surface.
"He’s a very determined character and, I think, a visionary
character," Lord Sainsbury, the Science Minister tells Inside Out.
Pillinger’s big break came in 1969, when Bristol University
was asked to analyse the first rocks brought back from the moon.
The team needed a junior chemist and Pillinger - who
grew up listening to Journey Into Space on the BBC and reading the Adventures
of Dan Dare in the Eagle Magazine - thought he might never have a better
|A young Pillinger
was inspired by Jet Morgan's Adventures on Mars.
Over the years, Pillinger has established himself as
one of Europe’s leading space scientists.
Seven years ago, he learnt that Europe was planning to
send an orbiter - the Mars Express - to the red planet in 2003.
Pillinger thought he could enhance the mission by sending
a probe on the back of the orbiter, which would detach and land on the
It was an enormous risk - the team would have a fraction
of the time and budget of a typical interplanetary expedition.
"People have been dreaming about Mars for thousands of
years and it fell on this generation for it to be 2003 and for it to be
so close that we could go there," the professor says.
"If we hadn’t taken the opportunity we’d never have forgiven
ourselves. Everybody else felt like that and all they needed was somebody
to say, "come on, we’ll go", and they trudged along behind me!
"If we’d followed the proper routes we’d never have even
been going to Mars," he says. "We just got the steam roller rolling. If
you got in the way, you got squashed."
displays a model of Beagle 2
Pillinger’s style doesn’t always win him friends - especially
amongst bureaucrats who have to ensure taxpayers’ money is well spent.
David Southwood at the European Space Agency has often
clashed with the professor.
"Colin Pillinger is not a reasonable man," he says, "and
he’s not easy to persuade. That’s of course what’s made Beagle what it
"If Colin were reasonable and easy to persuade, he would
have been persuaded not to attempt Beagle 2!"
The whiskery space wizard is always optimistic about
space exploration. "We’re good at science, we’re good at engineering,
we’re great at ideas. The country should be pushing forward in the exploration
of the solar system."
But what about those sideburns?
"He doesn’t see the need to wear a tie, to wear a suit,"
says his daughter Shusanah
"It’s totally irrelevant to what he’s doing. He just
doesn’t believe in convention."