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"Beagle 2": Lost in Space?

Scientists’ hopes to establish contact with the Mars Express lander are dwindling after another failed attempt on Wednesday to reach the robot, which touched down on the red planet on Dec. 25.

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Did the robot crash on the Martian surface?

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) orbiter Mars Express again failed to contact its Beagle 2 lander on Wednesday afternoon, raising fears that the €64.5 million ($82 million) unit crashed during a Christmas Day touchdown on the planet.

"We have to assume that it was destroyed or is lying in a crater," said Mike McKay, the Mars Express flight operations director at the mission's control center in Darmstadt in central Germany.

A few chances to connect remain

David Southwood, ESA's director of science, also expressed his disappointment. “That’s sad news,” Southwood said.

But he added that there were still several chances for the orbiter to listen for the Beagle’s relatively weak five watt signal as Mars Express flies directly over Beagle’s landing site. “This isn’t the end of the story,” he said.

Mars Express is scheduled to pass the site again on Thursday, Friday and Saturday for about five to eight minutes each time. Another chance to contact it will be on Jan. 12 and Jan. 14, when Mars Express will be flying across for a longer period of time.

Looking for signs of life on Mars

Beagle 2, named after the ship that carried Charles Darwin to the Galapagos Islands, where he developed his theory of evolution, was detached from the orbiter on Dec. 19 and sent on its way to the Martian surface. The 68 kg (150 pound) unit built by British scientists was meant to collect data for six months and search for signs of water and possible forms of life with a robotic arm and a Payload Adjustable Workbench (PAW) for experiments.

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