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Colin Pillinger, 1943-2014

Posted: 8 May 2014

Professor Colin Pillinger, the man behind the UK's Beagle 2 mission to Mars, has died aged 70.

Colin Pillinger
Colin Pillinger at Jodrell Bank in 2009. Photograph by Mike Peel (

Pillinger, who worked at the universities of Bristol and Cambridge before joining the Open University in 1984, was one of Britain's most recognisable space scientists and regularly appeared on television and radio. His research area was planetary science, in which he analysed samples of lunar rock brought back by the crew of Apollo 11, as well as meteorites from Mars.

It was the lure of the red planet that drew Pillinger into proposing and then becoming the Principal Investigator on the Beagle 2 mission, a small £50 million joint ESA/UK lander that piggybacked its way to Mars on the European Space Agency's Mars Express probe. However, contact was lost with Beagle 2 as it entered Mars' atmosphere. It has never been discovered whether the little probe made it to the surface, or burnt up in the atmosphere, nor what the exact cause for its failure was - Pillinger himself wondered whether the Martian atmosphere had been thinner than expected, meaning Beagle 2 would have entered the atmosphere faster than it should have and crashed.

In 2005 Pillinger was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis which led him to be confined to a wheelchair, but in spite of his illness he never stopped working, regularly attending scientific meetings and working on projects such as designing craft to potentially land at the Moon's south pole, as well as ESA's Rosetta mission, which is due to rendezvous with a comet later this year.

He died on 8 May after suffering a brain haemorrhage that left him in a coma. He leaves behind his wife, Judith, and two children.

The Planets
From tiny Mercury to distant Neptune and Pluto, The Planets profiles each of the Solar System's members in depth, featuring the latest imagery from space missions. The tallest mountains, the deepest canyons, the strongest winds, raging atmospheric storms, terrain studded with craters and vast worlds of ice are just some of the sights you'll see on this 100-page tour of the planets.

Hubble Reborn
Hubble Reborn takes the reader on a journey through the Universe with spectacular full-colour pictures of galaxies, nebulae, planets and stars as seen through Hubble's eyes, along the way telling the dramatic story of the space telescope, including interviews with key scientists and astronauts.

3D Universe
Witness the most awesome sights of the Universe as they were meant to be seen in this 100-page extravaganza of planets, galaxies and star-scapes, all in 3D!


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