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Colin Pillinger dies aged 70

An academic best known for his attempt to land a spacecraft on Mars has died aged 70.

Colin Pillinger

Source: Mike Peel

Colin Pillinger, founder of the Planetary and Space Sciences Research Institute at the Open University, fell into a coma after suffering a brain haemorrhage in his Cambridge home. He did not regain consciousness and later died at Addenbrooke’s Hospital.

Professor Pillinger built a probe to look for life on Mars, but it was lost after being launched from the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter in December 2003. The lander was named Beagle 2 after the ship used by Charles Darwin, HMS Beagle.

He was also involved in the Apollo programme and the ESA’s Rosetta mission. In 2004 the International Astronomical Union named an asteroid after him in recognition of his contribution to planetary science. In 2003 he was awarded CBE.

He also contributed several articles to Times Higher Education, including a piece in 2011 to mark the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first manned space flight.

Professor Pillinger gained a PhD from the University of Swansea before becoming a research fellow at the University of Cambridge. He later moved to the department of physical sciences at the Open University where he became a professor of interplanetary science in 1991.

One of the scientists who worked with Professor Pillinger on the Beagle 2 mission called him a “visionary” and “an inspirational leader”.

Andrew Coates, professor of physics and head of the planetary science group at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London, added: “I was shocked and saddened to hear the news. It was a great experience to work with Colin on Beagle 2.

“Colin was a visionary and an inspirational leader, and had a wonderfully involving interaction with the media as well. His work with the Moon and meteorites is also legendary.” 

Monica Grady, professor in planetary sciences at the Open University, who worked with him for 35 years, said: “He was my PhD supervisor, and one of the most influential figures in my life, both academically and as a friend.

“We collaborated on a great variety of projects, and were talking about new things to work on when I saw him last week. I will miss him, as I’m sure that many others will as well.”

Martin Bean, the Open University’s vice-chancellor, said: “Professor Pillinger was not only an inspiration to us here at the OU, but to people across the world with his infectious enthusiasm for science and discovery.

“I have no doubt that Colin’s legacy will be to inspire and stimulate study in this field for many decades to come.”

holly.else@tsleducation.com

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