When scientists at the European Space Agency launched the Mars Express orbiter in 2003, it carried with it a little package known as the Beagle 2 spacecraft. If everything went well, it would land on Mars and open, appropriately, on Christmas Day. But this Christmas miracle of modern space travel was not to be.
Mars Express arrived in the red planet's orbit in December 2003. Right on schedule, it released Beagle 2 on Dec. 19, sending the spacecraft hurtling into the planet's atmosphere at 12,400 miles per hour (20,000 kilometers per hour). A parachute and three airbags were installed to break Beagle 2's blistering fall and bring it gently to rest on the Martian landscape. There, four solar arrays were supposed to open and expose the radio antenna by which the spacecraft would communicate with Earth [source: Knapton].
When Beagle 2 failed to make radio contact after its scheduled landing, scientists worried they wouldn't get the Christmas gift they had desperately hoped for. After five years of design and development, six months of travel, and $65 to $80 million spent, scientists declared it lost on Feb. 6, 2004 [sources: NASA, European Space Agency]. Making matters worse, they wouldn't know what truly happened to it for another 12 years. That's when NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter snapped a photo of the wayward craft, showing that it had indeed landed, but the solar panels didn't deploy properly.