PIONEERING scientist Professor Colin Pillinger, who was the driving force behind Britain's Beagle 2 mission to Mars, has died aged 70.

The "inspirational" planetary scientist suffered a brain haemorrhage at his home in Cambridge and later died in hospital.

Prof Pillinger, a father of two who was awarded the CBE in 2003, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. His family said yesterday his death was "devastating and unbelievable".

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He became a professor in interplanetary science at the Open University in 1991 and earned a host of other qualifications during his distinguished career, along with numerous awards.

But he was most famous for the ill-fated Beagle 2 mission to Mars, which was supposed to land on the planet on Christmas Day 2003 and search for signs of life, but vanished without a trace. It was last seen heading for Mars on December 19, after separating from its European Space Agency mothership Mars Express.

Prof Pillinger was a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. Its deputy executive secretary, Robert Massey, said he expected tributes would be paid to him tomorrow at its AGM.

Mr Massey said: "Colin was an inspirational scientist. He wasn't afraid to challenge the establishment and get things done."