It’s PAYBACK time as HUMANS send a PROBE up ALIEN body

Your stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!

2001 HAL poster

Something for the Weekend, Sir? “We hit something the size of South London from ten years away.” Thus spake commentard Colin Ritchie the other day in response to The Register’s ongoing coverage of Rosetta’s extraordinary space odyssey.

2001: A Space Odyssey - The Monolith On The Moon

The significance of such an achievement should not be underestimated. In the mere twinkling of a star-child’s eye – just a couple of decades – the European Space Agency has demonstrated, in the face of failing political will and oft-stated engineering shortcomings, that it is in theory possible to establish a public transport link to South London after all.

The tickets are still a bit expensive and the service frequency leaves a lot to be desired but it’s a good start. TfL, take note.

It is also wonderful that the ESA has an outright and universally accepted success on its hands at last. Even if Philae falls off now, it will be a shame for science – but in terms of reputation it will matter not a jot. How cheerful it is to belong to a continent of “achievers” rather than “plucky battlers” for a change. For too long, the ESA has been patted patronisingly on the head by the rest of the world for efforts that, although cheap at the price, were always makeshift, ugly and inevitably doomed to failure. If space exploration was the World Cup, the ESA was Scotland.

After the loss of Beagle 2 on the surface of Mars in December 2003, the sudden media frenzy of this week had me clenching my toes at the expectation of having to put up with a lot more piss-taking from the Americans when the whole thing would inevitably go tits up. “Heh, your Rosetta dropped like a stone!” I imagined them cackling. “Typical of a European filly [Philae, geddit] to have her legs in the air, etc”.

The unexpected success caught me by surprise. I now confidently await Beagle 2 to come running back, tongue hanging and tail wagging, having thrown its lead almost exactly 11 years ago and now ready for a shampoo, tummy tickles and a Martian Bonio.

Naturally, the ESA boffins are making the most of it, even to the extent of being accused of media-whoredom. One argument doing the rounds is that they enjoyed the publicity of Philae’s initial landing so much that they contrived a reason to land it again. And then again a third time. That Stephan Ulemac and the gang must be a bunch of slappers, make no mistake.

Just joking, of course, but if you want credible claims surrounding the comet probe, you may as well look away now.

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