UK space scientist Colin Pillinger dies at 70

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 8, 2014 at 8:51 am •  Published: May 8, 2014
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LONDON (AP) — Colin Pillinger, an ebullient space scientist who captured the popular imagination with his failed attempt to land a British probe on Mars, has died. He was 70.

Pillinger's family said Thursday that he died at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge after suffering a brain hemorrhage while sitting in his garden.

Pillinger, a professor of interplanetary science at the Open University, was the driving force behind the largely privately funded Beagle 2 space mission.

The tiny craft — named for the ship that took naturalist Charles Darwin on his 19th-century voyage of discovery — was supposed to land on Mars on Christmas Day in 2003 and search for signs of life. But contact with the probe was lost soon after it separated from its European Space Agency Mars Express mother ship on Dec. 19. An investigation found that it may have burned up in the planet's atmosphere.

The loss of the probe, which cost the government more than $40 million and the private sector another $80 million, prompted questions in Britain about Europe's ability to participate in the race to Mars.

Pillinger, who had become famous with his bushy sideburns and enthusiastic delivery of frequent media updates on the mission, was bitterly disappointed but held out hope of a second attempt.