Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-74)

5 JULY 2004


  Q60 Chairman: Was it a major factor?

  Professor Pillinger: When we actually asked for that to be upped to 68, after the Casani review, we did not get a decision on that request, and so we were for ever after that point—this was where it was worse—believing that if we put another ounce on this spacecraft, we would get bounced off; and so we did not feel as though we could ask for anything else.

  Q61 Chairman: But it was a handicap.

  Professor Pillinger: It is always a handicap. Mass is the only thing you have got to—

  Q62 Chairman: You will know there has been a restricted report by a committee of inquiry. I do not know what you know about it or what you think about it. Can you tell me? We have been given the privilege of seeing it but under stringent conditions.

  Professor Pillinger: We have been briefed on the recommendations and background to how the recommendations were arrived at. On this side of the House we participated and co-operated with the review 100%. We allowed total insight into the project.

  Q63 Chairman: So why is it not being published, in your view, and should it be published?

  Professor Pillinger: You should ask the people who—

  Q64 Chairman: I am asking you, Colin.

  Professor Pillinger: I do not know why it is not being published. My view would have been to be totally open. I come from an organisation that has a name that is synonymous with openness.

  Q65 Chairman: We know the people to ask, is what you are saying—"do it". You would be happy to see it.

  Professor Pillinger: I am quite happy to see anything. If it criticises me, I am quite happy to answer it. What the team really wanted—never mind about whether it is published or not—was to sit down with this committee and discuss how they reached their recommendations.

  Q66 Chairman: That is why I asked you if you were happy with the committee of inquiry report.

  Professor Pillinger: No, the team on this side would really like to sit down and discuss how those conclusions were reached, so that we could say, "we did not do that; we agree we did not do that, but we did this."

  Q67 Chairman: Why do you think they are hiding it up, then?

  Professor Pillinger: You have to ask the people who—

  Q68 Chairman: Okay.

  Dr Healy: There are two things to say on the report. Even though we engaged 100%, that was in total six days of the commission talking to the team at various different points over a three-month period, so there is not a great deal of interaction there—six days over three months. We did not get the opportunity to understand what is in the report, other than the recommendations that have come out in it. If they have done some other work, if they have come up with some good reasons, we just do not know what they are and—

  Q69 Chairman: Let me put it to you that if it caused embarrassment to the ESA if it had been published—would you surmise on that?

  Professor Pillinger: If it caused embarrassment to somebody and I felt it was unjustified, I would defend them in the same way as I would defend anybody in this team, because I think most people working on this project did their very best to get this spacecraft to Mars.

  Q70 Mr McWalter: When you say that potentially it looks like the thinness of the Martian atmosphere that was obviously, as it were, against you, is your conclusion that the lander was destroyed on impact, or did it bounce; and would you like to give us a probability on both those two options?

  Professor Pillinger: I am not going to give you any probabilities. We searched for the wreckage of Beagle. If we could have found it on the surface of Mars, we would have known how far it got, irrespective of if we got a picture and irrespective if we got a signal. Malin Space Science Systems of NASA were extremely helpful in looking. I was disappointed that ESA did not also help us look for Beagle on the surface of Mars.

  Q71 Mr McWalter: Does that suggest you thought it was destroyed on impact?

  Professor Pillinger: If we could have seen the wreckage on the surface of Mars it would have been helpful to us because we would have known how far we got.

  Q72 Mr McWalter: Obviously, you are looking to promote another mission in 2007. Can you tell us who has expressed an interest and what the response has been from the Government?

  Professor Pillinger: Interestingly enough, Lord Sainsbury, two days after Beagle did not call in, said that we must resist the temptation to only do low-risk projects. This side of the House here—I think we always wanted to fly Beagle again, but we were very spurred by the inquiry, to the point where we all got around the table quite recently, and—I am afraid you are not going to like this, but we all decided to spend our own resources on researching how we think we might fly Beagle again. That is probably another gentleman's agreement that you do not want to know about.

  Q73 Mr McWalter: Have you been so far promised any funding for another mission?

  Professor Pillinger: PPARC were very generous in that they allowed us to use the residual money from the operations to keep the teams alive so that if a chance arose to fly the Beagle science package again, we would be ready.

  Dr Healy: It is worth saying, though, that it would be a complete waste of all the money, time and energy that has been put into Beagle if that were the end of it, if we do not go into Aurora or something like that. That would be the biggest waste of money possible. We have actually established a scientific and industrial lead within this activity in space, and that is not something that you can often say.

  Q74 Chairman: Thank you very much. Despite all the questioning, we are very proud that we were part of that enterprise because many good people in this country have been inspired by it, and young people inspired by science is what it is all about.

  Professor Pillinger: Chairman, you can either shed tears because it has gone or you can smile about it, and I am glad you are taking the latter route.

  Chairman: We know that all experiments and all ventures do not work in the scientific world, but we go on, so thank you very much indeed for coming today and helping us in this inquiry.

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