FORMER MP Dr Brian Iddon has paid tribute to “inspirational” planetary scientist Professor Colin Pillinger who had died aged 70.

Professor Pillinger, who led the ill-fated Beagle 2 mission to land a British probe on Mars, visited the borough to excite schoolchildren about science when he was invited by Dr Iddon to be the first speaker at Bolton Technical Innovation Centre (TIC) in Farnworth.

He gave two lectures, speaking to students during the day and adults and young people in the evening.

A short statement from Professor Pillinger’s family said he passed away "peacefully" at Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge after suffering a brain haemorrhage while sitting in his garden.

The statement referred to "this devastating and unbelievable time".

Dr Iddon first met the professor as an MP during the Beagle 2 mission, in which a tiny craft was supposed to land on Mars on Christmas Day, 2003, and search for signs of life.

But contact with the probe was lost soon after it separated from its European Space Agency Mars Express mother ship on December 19.

Dr Iddon, a fellow scientist, said: I am very saddened to hear of his death, He was a friend and his death is a sad loss to British science.

“He was very interested in the concept of the TIC centre and kept in touch with the manager for a couple of years after Paul Abbot asking if there was anything he could do to help the centre.”

Dr Iddon said: “He was very charismatic and attracted people to him.”

Dr Iddon said he helped bring science to the people and raise the profile of the Open University where he became a professor in interplanetary science and earned a host of other qualifications during his distinguished career, along with numerous awards.

Robert Massey, deputy executive secretary of the Royal Astronomical Society, which included Prof Pillinger among its fellows, said: "Colin was an inspirational planetary scientist.

"He wasn't afraid to challenge the establishment and get things done, and I think he's going to be remembered for that and the huge contributions he made in the field.”