Until we rediscovered it this week, Beagle 2 was just one in a long line of mysterious vanishing spacecraft.
The discovery that the British Beagle 2 space probe landed successfully back on Mars in 2003 has been a revelation even to those involved in the mission.
But until now Beagle 2 has been just one in a long line of spacecraft that have either crash landed, cut out, or plain disappeared. Here are a few of the more notable spacecraft with which we’ve lost contact – all of which could turn up again in one form another as human space exploration continues.
Launched: March 2, 1972
Last contact: January 22, 2003
Artist’s impression of Pioneer 10 heading into interstellar space (Nasa)
Pioneer 10 completed the first successful mission to Jupiter in 1973. It was designed to be fast, passing the moon 11 hours after launch and Mars 12 weeks later.
After reaching Jupiter it powered on into the outer reaches of our solar system at 82,000 mph. At the time its last signal was received, Pioneer 10 was 7.6 billion miles from Earth – that’s 82 times the distance between the Earth and the Sun. The radio signal took 11 hours and 20 minutes to reach home.
Although its radioisotope power source has now decayed, the spacecraft itself will keep going into outer space. Furthermore later spacecraft, such as the New Horizons probe, will never catch up to Pioneer 10 because it’s just going too fast.