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On Wednesday European officials confirmed the inevitable: Beagle 2, the British-built lander that was scheduled to land on Mars on Christmas Day, has been declared lost. The British government and the European Space Agency have launched a joint investigation into the failure of the mission, looking at both the technical reasons why the lander never established communications with Earth as well as broader programmatic reasons. The latter may turn out to be more interesting: Beagle 2 was done on a shoestring budget that initially relied on private funding (later supplemented in large part by government money). Several years ago NASA ran into problems when it tried to do too much for too little money with its Mars exploration program, resulting in the failures of Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander/Deep Space 2 missions in 1999. Of course, spending money is no inoculation against failure: Mars Observer cost NASA nearly $1 billion a decade ago, yet failed just days before arriving at the planet.

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