It’s a space lander the size of a portable barbecue, stapled to a mothership not much bigger than a household refrigerator, and it’s about to make history. On June 2 – the date could slip, but not by much – Beagle 2 will leave Kazakhstan aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket and begin a journey of 400m km. Mars Express will be the first European mission to reach another planet and Beagle 2 will be the first British lander to unfold under extraterrestrial skies. The first carries ground-penetrating radar that will “feel” deep below the surface of a freezing, arid, hostile planet and the second a little mole that will explore the surface and even burrow a metre below it. Between them, they might answer one of the great questions of the past 300 years: is there, or was there, life on Mars?