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29 October 2014
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Beagle 2 - A Mission to Mars

The inside story of a British-led space mission …

Monday 2 & Tuesday 3 June, 11.20pm, BBC TWO

The inside story of Britain's most ambitious space mission – to land on Mars and search for signs of life there – is told in Beagle 2: A Mission to Mars, a film five years in the making.

These Open University programmes for BBC TWO include exclusive behind-the-scenes footage of a space mission – as they tell the story of how one man's burning curiosity to discover if that evidence exists inspired one of the most remarkable science projects ever.

They reveal the trials and tribulations that the British-led Beagle 2 team - headed by lead scientist Professor Colin Pillinger of the Open University - face as they strive to advance science and develop the ground-breaking technology that will enable them to realise their mission.

Programme one is to be shown on the date scheduled for the launch – from Baikanour in Kazakhstan – of Beagle 2 and Mars Express, the European Space Agency craft on which it will be hitching its 250 million-mile ride to the Red Planet.

Presented by actor Keith Allen, the programmes trail the Beagle 2 team as they plan, design and raise funds for the ambitious mission.

Viewers see how the scientists and engineers are faced with problem after problem – and how they overcame them.

First, they must persuade the European Space Agency to permit Beagle 2 to hitch a lift on the agency's Mars Express – no simple task, given the unusual nature of the mission's development.

Then, the team must work to raise the profile of the mission in the eyes of potential financial backers – and must attract Government funding.

All along, the scientists and engineers know they must also ensure the public is behind them and be sure that the mission remains in the public eye.

Artist Damien Hirst agrees to produce Beagle 2's colour calibration chart for the lander's cameras and Blur agree to write the identification call-sign that the lander will use as it arrives on Mars.

The mission is never far from the headlines.

And that's all in addition to the vital work on the lander itself – where laboratories full of state-of-the-art equipment have to be reduced to the size of a garden barbecue that weighs no more than 60kg.

And its minimised equipment has to be constructed in a completely sterile environment, so that researchers can be sure that Beagle 2 is not flying signs of life from Earth to Mars.

A specially-designed aseptic assembly facility at the Open University's headquarters in Milton Keynes is built for the final stages of construction.

The team, which also includes mission manager Dr Mark Sims, of the University of Leicester, and engineering manager Jim Clemmet of Astrium, are unfailing in their determination and dedication to the project.

The programmes track progress as work and testing continue on a range of Beagle 2's instruments, including the self-propelled mole that will burrow under the planet's surface; a gas analysis package; and the systems that will land Beagle 2 safely on Mars after it leaves the Mars Express craft.

There are testing times too as the lander's parachute and gas-filled bags that will cushion Beagle 2's landing are trialled. Revised designs for the parachute have to be drawn up.

As the countdown to launch continues, the lander's final build begins at Milton Keynes.

Beagle 2: A Mission to Mars is a Circlevision production (produced and directed by John Macnish) for BBC TWO, made for the Open University. The executive producer is Steve Wilkinson.

Notes to Editors

Images linked to the programmes are downloadable from the Open University media relations image bank -

Beagle 2 images are downloadable from the project website -

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

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