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Friday, 29 November, 2002, 18:15 GMT
Hirst art heads to Mars
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The first piece of artwork to be designed for space

British artist Damien Hirst has unveiled artwork that will travel into space on the British Beagle 2 lander journeying to Mars.

One of Hirst's famous spot paintings - rows of differently coloured spots - will be used as a special instrument calibration chart.

It will be attached to the spacecraft after two days on show at the White Cube gallery in London.

If they've got eyes, they'll love it

Damien Hirst on Martians
"Not in my wildest dreams would I have thought about making an artwork that would actually travel to the Red Planet," said Hirst on Thursday.

"But the spot painting lends itself to this project and as an artist all the things you make you want to be useful on some level."

Hirst said that if Martians did exist they would be very impressed with his work. "If they've got eyes, they'll love it."

Beagle 2 will be launched from Kazakhstan in May next year and Hirst said he hoped to take his seven-year-old son along to see it.

Beagle 2
The Beagle 2 should touch down on Mars in December 2003
The lander is going to Mars to see whether there is - or was - life on the planet, as part of the European Space Agency's (Esa) Mars Express mission.

The parent Esa probe will be put itself into orbit around the planet, before dropping Beagle 2 down to the surface. Parachutes and aircushions will help the lander make a soft touchdown.

Beagle is expected to send back its first information from Mars in a year's time.


Hirst's painting has been painted with pigments that will withstand the rigours of space flight.

It will be used as a reference chart so scientists back on Earth can check whether any of the lander's instruments have been damaged during transit or landing.

Damon Albarn and Dave Rowntree from Blur
Blur: Also contributing to the mission
Hirst has won a reputation for outrage and controversy after exhibiting art that included pickled sharks and cows cut in half and placed in formaldehyde.

The scientist behind Beagle 2 is planetary expert Professor Colin Pillinger, who had the idea to enlist Hirst in the project after seeing one of his spot paintings in a documentary three years ago.

Professor Pillinger said: "This collaboration is not about displaying art in space but about finding out if there is life on Mars."

The painting will be joined by a track from British rock band Blur which will be beamed back from the probe.

The track will act as a call sign to tell Professor Pillinger's team that Beagle has landed safely.

The tune - written by band members Alex James and Dave Rowntree before the band began work on their new album - is based on a mathematical sequence.

Read a selection of your comments on this story.

I am a senior lecturer in Astronomy and Space Science at the University of Glamorgan, Wales The inclusion of Damien Hirst's work on the Beagle lander is an admirable example of the interplay between science and art. We should not be considering why Hirst's artwork is going to the red planet, we should be rejoicing that a common thread can be found between the two so-called distinct cultures of art and science.
Martin Griffiths, UK

Prof Pillinger has done an amazing job

Andrew Harmsworth, UK
I think the whole Beagle 2 mission shows just how well UK scientists can do to compete against the big-budget players. Prof Pillinger has done an amazing job bringing Blur, Hirst and others onto the project. Let's hope it gets there safely...
Andrew Harmsworth, UK

I've watched the development of Beagle 2 closely and it's been totally fascinating and a testament to true British guts and determination they have got a shot at Mars. There is an important reason for the probe but to involve contemporary Britain shows that science is also fun. Good luck Beagle 2.
Michael Thomas, UK

It looks like the painting set I had when I was a kid! Any alien who sees this is going to grab a pot of water and try to paint a flower.
Darran, UK

Let's just be thankful he's not sending any sliced cows to Mars.
Andrew, USA

Is there room on board for Janet Street Porter and the Turner price judges?
Anon, UK

We need more of them

David, UK
If stunts like this enthuse the public towards our dwindling space programmes, then we need more of them. Could be a great moment to get rid of Will Young...
David, UK

The Martians might have eyes but the space agency seems to be blind to pretentious pap.
Michael Cutter, Bermuda

Best place for it. Can we send him as well?
Mark, UK

I believe a better painting could have been sent.
Harveymarvey, USA

I think that they should send the whole bunch to Mars, not just a so-called painting.
H. Smith, England

Very nice. Space exploration should include the arts of all sorts. It's part of the human spirit.
Stephen Marks, USA

Are Hirst and Blur not bad enough on Earth without us having to inflict them on other planets? I hope Mars isn't inhabited, or the Martians will think we're declaring war on their taste.
Daniel, UK

The BBC's Tom Heap
"The worlds of science and art meet on an eyecatching project"
Blur's Mars mission
Watch and listen to Blur's Mars call sign
See also:

18 Oct 02 | Science/Nature
23 Sep 02 | Science/Nature
20 Dec 00 | Science/Nature
13 Sep 00 | Festival of science
02 Sep 99 | Entertainment
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