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A Beagle is a small dog with floppy ears and a mild manner which makes it an ideal pet. It was bred for hunting because of its keen sense of smell, and it is often used as a sniffer dog in airports (detecting anything from explosives to contraband bananas). The most famous Beagle in the world is probably Snoopy – even if he is fictional. No Beagles appear in this story.

HMS Beagle began life at Woolwich Dockyard in 1820. At the end of 1831, she set sail on her second voyage, with a certain Charles Darwin on board (a partnership which was to be repeated on the ship’s third voyage). In 1870, she was sold to be broken up for scrap. She too has very little, if anything, to do with this story.

Beagle 2 was a British landing spacecraft which was intended to land on the surface of Mars on Christmas Day, 2003. It was called Beagle 2 as it was named after Darwin’s HMS Beagle (which, naturally, was Beagle 1), hoping to do for human knowledge of Mars what Darwin’s voyages did for human knowledge of nature (and evolution). Unfortunately, no message was sent from the lander to the waiting scientists, and it was assumed that the spacecraft had been lost, either because of an over-speedy crash-landing, from bouncing back into space (Mars’ gravitational field is nowhere near as strong as Earth’s) or because it simply missed. The mission team was disappointed; the pop group who had recorded a song for the lander to transmit back to Earth were devastated. The thoughts of the Beagle were (obviously) unrecorded. This is where our story starts…

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