Planetary Scientist Colin Pillinger Passes Away at 70

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By Sounak Mukhopadhyay | May 9, 2014 9:55 AM EST

Colin Pillinger, the British planetary scientist who was best known for the Beagle 2 Mars mission in 2003, passed away at 70. His family said that he suffered a brain haemorrhage at his Cambridge home. Thereafter, he went into a deep coma that he never recovered from. He passed away after he had been rushed to Addenbrooke's Hospital. The family called the death of Pillinger as "devastating and unbelievable" in a statement.

BBC reported that it was the UK Space Agency Chief executive Dr David Parker who led the tributes. He said that Prof Pillinger was instrumental in raising the standards at the British space programme. He inspired "young people to dream big dreams," Dr Parker said. According to Science Minister David Willetts, Pillinger was a "delightful and a free spirit." He said that Pillinger's "vision of space exploration and his dedication to it inspired the nation."

Professor Mark Sims, who was the mission manager of the Beagle-2 in 2003, said that Pillinger was a "top-rate scientist." He said that there could have been disagreements with him but Pillinger "always went for what he believed in". He also said that knowing the Open University scientist and working with him was a "privilege."

The Beagle-2 Mars mission, which was Pillinger's brainchild, was a pioneer in searching for life on Mars. The spacecraft was sent to Mars on a European satellite. However, after it was dropped off for making its landing, it vanished leaving no trace. Pillinger called it the "unfinished business on Mars" that he persuaded space agencies to complete. He was reportedly critical about postponing the ExoMars mission to 2018.

Pillinger was 62 when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Things became difficult as his health did not allow him to walk properly. His illness, nevertheless, could not diminish his research, he said. He raced around scientific conferences in his motorised vehicle. Pillinger described his approach to life as "bloody-minded." He said that his father taught him not to believe in impossibilities.

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