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Thursday, 2 September, 1999, 09:14 GMT 10:14 UK
Blur's future is out of this world
Blur: Marking 10 years together with music for Mars
Pop band Blur are in the studio recording the first music to be played on the planet Mars - and are denying rumours they are planning to split.

The band, who are celebrating 10 years together, are providing a song which will be beamed back from the unmanned UK space probe Beagle 2 when it lands on the red planet in 2003.

On Saturday, singer Damon Albarn surprised fans at the Reading Festival by announcing the group would play just two more shows - and then "we're going to do something else".

But bassist Alex James said: "There's still more stuff to come. There's not many bands who are still together after 10 years. It is amazing it still works at the moment."

Alex James: "It is 1999, we should be building spaceships"
Some pundits thought the group, who are playing a special B-sides show at a club in Camden, north London on Monday, were preparing to go out with a bang.

They are soon releasing a box set of all their singles over the past decade and are the subject of an official biography by journalist Stuart Maconie.

But now James, Albarn, and fellow members Dave Rowntree and Graham Coxon are working on the Beagle 2 project, to record a song to be played back to Earth to announce the probe had successfully landed on Mars.

James, who came up with the idea, said: "We just thought Britain should have a space programme. It is 1999 and we should be building spaceships.

"I couldn't think of anything better to do and three phone calls later I was talking to a man with a spaceship."

The Beagle 2 when it lands on Mars
He said it was "fascinating" to meet the Open University's Professor Colin Pillinger, the man behind the 25m project, which will be launched with the European Space Agency's 110m Mars Express mission.

When it has landed, Beagle 2 will send out a "mole" to gather samples of rock, soil and gas which will be examined for chemical traces of life.

The government has donated 5m to add to the 16m already reportedly raised for the project, and the team have until October to convince the agency they can raise the rest of the money.

Artist Damien Hirst is also said to be preparing paintings to travel on board the probe.

Alex James said he would love to be a celebrity astronaut on the first civilian flight to Mars.

But he added: "They will probably send Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise instead. It will probably be cheaper because they could make a film out of it as well."

See also:

31 Mar 99 | Entertainment
Blur's Damon to be a dad
02 Aug 99 | UK
UK mission to Mars
13 Jul 99 | Entertainment
Blur boss demands chart re-run
31 Aug 99 | Entertainment
Blur star slammed for Ecstasy comments
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