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Prime Minister offers congratulations on successful launch of Mars Express

Press Release From: British National Space Centre
Posted: Tuesday, June 3, 2003

This first European Space Agency probe to head for another planet will enter an orbit around Mars, from where it will perform detailed studies of the planetís surface, its subsurface structures and its atmosphere. It will also deploy Beagle 2, a small autonomous station which will land on the planet, studying its surface and looking for possible signs of life, past or present.

The probe, weighing in at 1 120 kg, was built on ESAís behalf by a European team led by Astrium. It set out on its journey to Mars aboard a Soyuz-Fregat launcher, under Starsem operational management. The launcher lifted off from BaÔkonur in Kazakhstan on 2 June at 23.45 local time (17:45 GMT). An interim orbit around the Earth was reached following a first firing of the Fregat upper stage. One hour and thirty-two minutes later the probe was injected into its interplanetary orbit.

The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, offered his congratulations;

"This mission to Mars is a historic opportunity for the UK, working with our European Partners, to demonstrate itself as a world leader in science, technology and innovation. Beagle 2 is an exciting project, which combines the best in UK science and industry, and a powerful example of the benefits of Government's continued investment and support in this area. Beagle 2 offers fascinating potential to learn more about the fundamental origins of life. I wish it good luck on a difficult and challenging mission."

Lord Sainsbury, the Science Minister also offered his congratulations;

"This is still early days but I would like to congratulate everyone on a successful launch. This is a visionary and high-risk project and tonight will be the first of many exciting moments, but encouraging made such a good start."

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