Ten years ago the European Space Agency sent a probe to Mars called the Beagle II.
The probe reached the red planet, the lander was sent down, everything looked good, but then… nothing. No signal was received from the Beagle II and its fate was a mystery.
That is, until now.
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, equipped with the HiRISE camera, has located the lost probe. It turns out that the Beagle II landed safely, but its solar panels didn’t deploy. Denied power, the probe never woke up. It will remain there, sleeping on the martian landscape, its mission unfulfilled.
From a real world perspective it’s disappointing that the Beagle II was never able to perform its mission. However being able to shoot a space probe across the gulf of space and land it intact on another planet is no small accomplishment. That the probe did arrive safely is still a tremendous feat. You can read more about it at Phil Plait’s blog, Bad Astronomy.
From a gamer’s perspective, this is an adventure waiting to happen. Give the probe an A.I. and a small battery, just enough to preserve its most basic functions. Then you have a space probe on the sands of Mars that lays dead but dreaming. Over the years the A.I. slowly slips into madness and the nature of its mission warps. Only he imperative to complete its task remains intact.
The adventure begins when the characters are contacted about a group of missing colonists.
For a twist, inform the players that the lost colony’s spaceship has been detected blasting off. It’s on course for Earth.