July 13, 2014
A Martian Tribute
Professor Steve Squyres of New York’s Cornell University has named a beautiful piece of Martian landscape after his recently departed friend and colleague, the British scientist Colin Pillinger.
Squyres, who leads the team in charge of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover, felt that naming a portion of the red planet in honour of his friend would be a fitting tribute.
In a column for BBC News, Squyres wrote, “When I heard the news of Colin’s death, I knew immediately that we had to name a place on Mars after him. And by very good luck, Opportunity was at that moment approaching one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen on Mars. We named it Pillinger Point”.
Pillinger Point is situated on the Western rim of Endeavor Crater, a 22 km impact crater on the surface of Mars. The location offers perhaps the best view yet seen of the Martian landscape.
“I like to think that Colin would have enjoyed this view, and I hope that our image of it will help honour his memory”, wrote Squyres.
Colin Pillinger, who died in May of this year of a brain haemorrhage, after nearly a decade of battling multiple sclerosis, was perhaps best known as the brains behind the unsuccessful Beagle 2 mission to Mars, which took place during 2003.
The unmanned probe was designed to seek out life in the Martian wilderness. Although the mission ultimately ended in failure, Squyres is optimistic regarding The Beagle’s final legacy. “What they (Pillinger and his team) did do, though, was energize the public in Britain and around the globe in a way that few scientific explorers have matched”. He writes.
Born in 1943, Colin Pillinger worked first for NASA, analyzing lunar samples and later at Cambridge University and then The Open University. In 2000, he had an asteroid named after him and in 2003; he was awarded a CBE by the Queen.
Later, in 2011, Pillinger was awarded the prestigious Michael Faraday Prize.
Writing of his friend and kindred intellect, Steve Squyres simply says, “Colin was a force of nature, and his enthusiasm for Mars exploration was unparalleled. So I think that Beagle 2’s greatest legacy, and part of Colin’s, is surely the thousands of young people who were inspired to pursue careers in science, in engineering, and in technology, and to follow in Colin’s footsteps”.
It is a fitting tribute for a man who spent his life and career looking toward the stars.