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Time to say Thank You

Look at that calendar… November 9th… we’re now just three sleeps away from Philae’s historic landing on 67P… Remember, you won’t be moving far from your computer on Wednesday, so have you all got your supplies in? Plenty of tea bags or coffee? Snacks? Good.

As we move towards Wednesday everything is getting very exciting and crazy, and it’s only going to get worse, so I think it’s a good time to just hit the Pause button and say a big and well-deserved Thank You to a few people – namely, the people who have, through years of fantastic and enthusiastic Outreach and media promotion, made ROSETTA one of the most high profile space missions ever.

It’s fair to say, I think, that until a few years ago ESA’s Outreach efforts were pretty rubbish, They were way behind NASA in that respect, and never seemed to get it right somehow. They tried hard, but it never really came off. Of course, a lot of this was down to lack of people, resources and money, and that was probably because the ESA higher ups just didn’t “get” how crucially important good and effective Outreach is. And of course it didn’t help that ESA as an organisation just refused to share the pictures it took with the people who paid for them to be taken. It really was like squeezing blood out of a stone. But at some point in the past couple of years, someone waved a magic wand and WHUMPF! In a shower of sparks and burst of colour ESA suddenly Got It, and since then pictures have flowed much more freely, and ESA’s websites, blogs, animations , live webcasts, Google chats, and other Outreach products have been nothing short of brilliant.

But really, the team which has been promoting ROSETTA deserves a medal, because they have produced some of the best space exploration Outreach products ever, which have really helped the public to invest emotionally in the mission and feel a part of it. They have produced slick and easy to use webpages and blogs filled with so much information – not just dry facts and figures, but interesting and educational personal information, news, opinions and more – that it’s been hard to keep up with them all. The same team has set up competitions, a memorable “Wake Up ROSETTA” campaign, and produced the most charming videos, showing cartoon versions of ROSETTA and PHILAE heading to Comet 67P, which have gained fans all around the world.


Some say they’re too cute, too sugary, too lightweight, but I think they’re fantastic and have shown them to many audiences, young and old, as part of my Outreach work and everyone has loved them. (I am a bit worried, I’ll admit, that poor little Philae, last seen excitedly pulling on his boots and stuffing a packet of sandwiches into his rucksack, has no idea that he’s going on a one way trip to the surface of 67P, and will die down there, frozen and alone, once his food and power runs out, but I’m not going to be the one to tell him…)


Then there’s the jaw-dropping sci-fi short film “Ambition”, which features the ROSETTA mission…


Again, it wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Ok, Aidan Gillan’s costume is a bit strange – what’s going on with that yellow net shawl… thing… draped around his shoulders?? – and some have criticised it as being “melodramatic”, “too arty” and worse. Aaah, stuff them. It’s beautiful to look at and soul-stirring to watch. There’s a sequence in “AMBITION” which shows the PHILAE lander descending towards the surface of 67P which makes me shake my head in wonder every time I see it…


Seriously, whoever came up with the idea for “AMBITION” deserves a medal, as does everyone at ESA who worked on it. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve watched it already, and as I type this it’s making me want to watch it again.

Thanks to all those things mentioned above, ROSETTA surely now has the highest public and media profile of any space mission in years, and that’s entirely down to the hard work, dedication and commitment of a very small group of people within ESA who don’t get nearly enough credit as they should. Well, on behalf of everyone following the ROSETTA mission, I’d like to say THANK YOU to them.

Thank you, for the websites, and “Wake Up ROSETTA”…


Thank you for “AMBITION”…


Thank you for the wonderful animations…


Thank you for everything you’ve done.

And while we’re handing out thank yous, I want to say a HUGE thank you to the people at ESA who decided to share images taken by ROSETTA’s navcams so freely, and have kept them coming. For months now we’ve had almost daily releases of images taken by the probe’s ESA-controlled navcams, and because of that we have been able to see 67P grow larger and more wonderful and more bizarre before our eyes. We’ve seen its craters, cliffs and boulder-strewn plains stark in the sunlight, its jets of gas and dust shining against the blackness of space, and more. Thanks to the release of those navcam images, we have all been able to share in the true joy of exploration and discovery space missions like this provide. So, to whoever it was who decided to let the public see those images, and to the people who keeps releasing them, this:


Of course, this has been in stark contrast to the actions and attitude of the OSIRIS team, which has simply refused to share its images with the public. Their attitude towards the public, the media, and ESA itself has been one of arrogant contempt, and I have no doubt at all that their selfish behaviour has damaged the mission and the reputation and public image ESA. Their initial arguments that they had to keep images back to allow them to do their research no longer hold up now. They must have taken many hundreds of jaw droppingly detailed images by now, the images everyone has been looking forward to ever since ROSETTA launched a decade ago, so could easily release dozens of images which pose no risk to their work or careers, but they have released only a handful, and those have been the least-detailed, least-remarkable images they could find. It’s a great shame, it really is. As Philae prepares to shout “Geronimo!”, jump off ROSETTA and land on 67P, those OSIRIS images should be everywhere, everywhere, adding to the excitement and wonder people are feeling, supporting and promoting the mission and ESA. But they’re being kept under lock and key, only seen by the OSIRIS team themselves.


As a proud supporter of ESA, and as someone who, through my taxes, helped get ROSETTA to 67P and was looking forward to seeing the images I helped pay to be taken, I’m ashamed of them, and they should be ashamed of themselves for their selfishness.The people who fund ESA deserve better.

And, having come so far, having improved so much, having learned its lessons, ESA itself deserves better.

Enough. I will not let the OSIRIS team’s selfishness spoil this incredible week for me! It’s now almost 2pm on Sunday the 9th… by this time on Wednesday Philae will be watching 67P looming ahead, and we will be just hours away from the historic first landing on a comet.

I can’t wait.