In less than an hour coverage will begin of the arrival of ESA’s ROSETTA probe at Comet 67P. As the final minutes tick by, some personal thoughts on what it means…
A hundred years ago today, Europe was preparing to fling itself into the most brutal war ever known. There were – as far as I know – no bright comets in the sky to blame for the outbreak of World War I, no signs written in the sky as the continent prepared to tear itself apart, as all across Europe countries were condemning other countries, hatred and fury were building, and the future seemed very bleak indeed. Within months men and boys would be dying in their tens of thousands, slogging across muddy battlefields all across the continent. During lulls in those awful battles, when the shells stopped falling, the machine guns fell silent, and the screams of the wounded finally faded away, many of those soldiers on both sides – particularly those who came from small towns and villages in the countryside – must have looked up at the starry sky above the cratered battlefields and wondered what the future would bring. Would Europe be under the heels of dictators? Would there even *be* a Europe left after the war, or would it be left a desolate wasteland?
I think they would be glad to know that Europe didn’t just survive, it prospered and grew strong and proud. I think those men and boys would be proud to know that in the future they fought for, we didn’t just turn swords into plough-shares, we turned them into amazing machines which, when released from our hands like doves, fly between the planets, beautiful metal butterflies sending back breathtaking pictures of places so alien, so bizarre that the brave men who fought and died in those trenches could not even imagine them.
I think they would be proud to know that today, a hundred years after the horns of war were blaring across Europe, a European machine, designed, built, launched and now operated by men and women from different countries all across Europe, and beyond, is about to make history. And they would be glad to know, I’m sure, that today our enemies aren’t our neighbours; they are ignorance and fear. Today the prize is not domination over others, but knowledge, gained for the benefit of the whole of mankind.
Today we rendezvous with a comet. Today we start to learn more about the birth of our solar system, our place in the universe, and how to protect our planet. Today is going to be a great day.
Godspeed Rosetta, and good luck to all the men and women at ESA who are sitting silently in their seats, or nervously pacing the floor, or tapping away feverishly at their keyboards. We’re all behind you. And we know that later today – and on many days after – you’ll make all of us proud.
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