Colin Pillinger was first brought to public attention in 2003 as the spearhead of the the British attempt to land a probe on the surface of Mars. His spacecraft was named Beagle 2, after the ship that took Charles Darwin to the Galapagos Islands and his ground-breaking theory of evolution.
The mission started positively enough, but with limited resources, Pillinger and his team were unable to make any kind of contact with the spacecraft until the moment it landed on the Red Planet.
Its planned landing date was Christmas Day 2003 at Isidis Planetia but despite the team’s best efforts, no contact was ever made with the Beagle 2 and it was eventually declared lost, with planetary flybys unable to see even wreckage.
The most commonly accepted theory for the unsuccessful mission was a thinner than expected atmosphere, which could have caused Beagle 2 to land much faster than planned.
Colin Pillinger continued to try and locate the fallen spacecraft and his enthusiasm for exploring space never diminished. He was awarded a CBE in 2003, had an asteroid named after him and was Professor of Interplanetary Science at Open University until 2005 when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
As a true pioneer of British grit and determination to succeed against the odds, Pillinger was a key and respected part of the the astronomy scene and will be sorely missed by friends, family, colleagues and anyone who shares his love of the great unknown alike.