[meteorite-list] Colin Pillinger Dies After Brain Haemorrhage
From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu, 8 May 2014 10:10:38 -0700 (PDT)
Colin Pillinger dies after brain haemorrhage
By Jonathan Amos
8 May 2014
"A man with a mission". Pallab Ghosh reports on the life of Colin Pillinger
British planetary scientist Colin Pillinger, best known for his 2003
attempt to land a spacecraft on Mars, has died aged 70, his family have
Prof Pillinger was at his home in Cambridge when he suffered a brain
haemorrhage and fell into a deep coma.
His family said he later died at Addenbrooke's Hospital without
His death was "devastating and unbelievable", they said in a statement.
Dr David Parker, the chief executive of the UK Space Agency, led the
He told the BBC that Prof Pillinger had played a critical role in
raising the profile of the British space programme and had inspired
"young people to dream big dreams".
The Science Minister David Willetts called him a "delightful man and a
free spirit". And added: "His vision of space exploration and his
dedication to it inspired the nation."
And Prof Mark Sims, the mission manager on the 2003 Beagle-2 probe,
recalled: "Colin was a top-rate scientist. You might not have agreed
with him but he always went for what he believed in. It was a privilege
to have known him and worked with him, both as a friend and colleague."
Prof Pillinger was the driving force behind Beagle-2, which was built to
search for life on Mars.
The little craft was carried piggyback to the Red Planet on a European
satellite, but vanished without trace after being dropped off to make
Prof Pillinger continued to push space agencies to complete what he
called "unfinished business on Mars", and was sometimes critical of the
delays that have seen Europe's follow-up rover mission, ExoMars, slip
back to 2018.
Fans took to Twitter on Thursday to pay tribute to the scientist, with
author Keith Mansfield calling him a "great advocate" for space and Mars.
Phil Ford, a writer on Dr Who, said "Very sad to see Prof Colin Pillinger
has died. A proper British boffin who will be fondly remembered for the
Beagle Mars mission."
At the age of 62, Prof Pillinger was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis,
which made it difficult for him to walk.
He said the illness would not diminish his research, and his motorised
buggy was often seen racing around scientific conferences.
"Bloody-minded," was how he described his own approach to life. "If I
ever said as a child 'I can't do this', my father would always say,
'There's no such thing as can't'," he recalled on the BBC's Desert
Island Discs programme.
With colleagues at the Open University, where he headed the Department
of Physical Sciences until 2005, he was keenly looking forward to this
year's Rosetta mission.
The pan-European venture plans to put a lander on a comet this November,
and an OU instrument will help investigate the object's chemistry.
"It's important to note that Colin's contribution to planetary science
goes back to working on Moon samples from Apollo, as his work on
meteorites," said Dr Parker.
"While we still don't know for certain what happened to Beagle-2, I'd
say that the project was a turning point in bringing together the space
science and industrial communities in the UK - which didn't used to
speak with one voice. Beagle-2 wasn't built in Colin's backyard: it was
the product of UK brains and hard-work in many companies and universities."
For the British media, Prof Pillinger was often the go-to man for a
comment when a new piece of space science was published.
The press appreciated his straight-talking, and the whiskers and the
Bristolian accent just added to his appeal.
He had an especially sharp eye for a good headline, once demonstrating
the relatively small scale of Beagle-2 by loading a replica into a
supermarket trolley and wheeling it through the car park of the Open
University. The footage was picked up by the satirical programme Have I
Got News for You? ensuring that news of the mission reached a far wider
On the publication of his biography in 2010, My Life On Mars, he
recalled an event that made him realise that the lost probe would be his
"I pulled into the OU car park and there was this huge lorry, a guy
delivering a load of bricks - a builder, obviously," he told the BBC.
"I looked at this guy and I thought 'he's going to take a while', so I
dashed in front of him in my car to get into the parking space. Well,
the door opened on the lorry and this huge man got out - you could eat
your dinner off his hands - and he started walking towards the car. And
I thought, 'Bloody hell, I'm going to get thumped'.
"Well, he stuffed this huge paw through the window and said, 'You're the
man who launched Beagle-2, aren't you? I want to shake your hand, mate'.
And that to me says everything. There's nobody in the UK I didn't reach."
Prof John Zarnecki, a colleague at the OU, remembered Colin Pillinger as
"a boss, a friend, a rival, a confidant, a fellow football fan and many
"Working with Colin was never easy or quiet! But our aims were the same
- to do the best science that we possibly could. And with Colin, woe
betide anybody or any organisation who got in the way of that
objective," he told me.
"Life was never dull - he never fired me (as most of my colleagues claim
to have been) but I do remember a particularly fiery meeting at which he
accused me of being a traitor (to what I'm not sure I remember).
"I can think of nobody else who could have made Beagle-2 happen - he was
so passionate, determined and thick-skinned.
"He refused to work 'by the rules'. Although it was a 'long shot', it
definitely could have worked - and I committed myself to the extent of
providing an instrument for Beagle-2. The Christmas Day we spent trying
to make contact with Beagle-2 was so painful - and so much so for Colin
who had invested his very soul - and more - into that effort. He bore it
with great dignity.
"Our community will be that much poorer without Colin."
Prof Pillinger was married to Judith with whom he had two children,
Shusanah and Nicolas.
Received on Thu 08 May 2014 01:10:38 PM PDT