"It's a bloody miracle it made it down in one piece!" was the informed assessment of British contraption aficionado William Heath Robinson on the landing of NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover this morning.
"All the elements were in place for a spectacular and complicated bit of gadgetry but I was watching it all live on SKY and the only piece of knotted string in evidence was the mission controllers shoe lace! And where were the oversized ornate polished wood and brass levers? There were two hundred plus people in that control room and not a hint that a single one of them was on standby with the beeswax and Brasso! Over all I think they really missed a trick. I mean the bit where they lowered the rover the last few feet from a hovering rocket powered sky crane was ok, it could have done with some chap in tweeds and a deerstalker back on earth winding a big wheel to control the winch, but at least the skycrane wouldn't have looked out of place on the front cover of 'Amazing Stories'. Believe me I know what I'm talking about!"
Indeed he should, for Mr Heath Robinson had been employed as a consultant on Professor Colin Pillinger's failed Beagle 2 Mars Explorer in 2003. Reflecting on his Beagle 2 experience Heath Robinson insisted that the abortive British attempt to get it's finger in the planetary exploration pie wasn't misplaced.
"Look, that should have worked." he said. " Everything was on track for a bit of classic British 'make do and mend',we'd got an eccentric lead scientist, in the form of Colin with his unlikely sideburns and west country accent, we'd rented a shed on some allotments near the Open University campus in Milton Keynes and one of Colin's post-grad students had brought in some bits from an old Marconi valve radiogram he'd found in his Grandad's attic. With the Radio Spares catalogue and a couple of rolls of Sellotape provided by the UK Space Agency we were pretty much sorted. It was once the media got wind it all started to go down the tubes! Colin got carried away and went all contemporary with the design. First he gets Damien Hurst involved painting some dots on Beagle. Beagle! By the time he'd finished it looked more like a bloody Dalmatian! Then he roped in that rock band Blur to record the mission call sign. I warned him that he was losing the plot, that if he dropped the steampunk brass porthole, gramophone horn and obvious rivets, to make way for the demands of modern technology and popular culture, it would end in tears: But no, Colin knew best and insisted that sleek and streamlined was the way to go. Boy was he ever wrong. Where's Beagle now eh? I'll tell you where it is.. It's scattered over the Martian landscape in more sodding pieces than a flatpack IKEA sideboard!That's where it is!"
As he excused himself to attend an urgent troubleshooting meeting with Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic design team Mr Heath Robinson left us with his parting thought: "NASA should think themselves lucky, they might have got away with it this time but if they keep putting science and precision engineering over sellotape, string and chewing gum in astro-engineering then sooner or later they're going to come down to earth, or wherever they happen to be, with one hell of a bang I can tell you"
Asked to comment on NASA's successful Mars Curiosity Rover landing, and Mr Heath Robinson's contribution to the Beagle 2 project, Professor Pillinger shook his head, wiped away a tear and sighed wistfully.