Friday 14 November 2014

Where No One Has Gone Before (Yay for Philae!)

Philae lander approaching Comet 67P/C-G as seen by Rosetta (image from ESA)

Like many across the globe on Wednesday, we waited with baited breath for the stuff of science fiction to become reality. It wasn't on our radar until a day or two before, when news articles started to trickle in about this crazy mission that looked like it would work: getting the Philae lander from the Rosetta spacecraft onto Comet 67P/C-G five hundred million kilometres away hurtling through space at crazy speeds. What? What?

We watched the ESA twitter feed and blog, read up on the Q&A, and got really excited. To watch knowledge, money, technology and talent being used for the truly fantastic as an adult is a privilege*. To watch the live feed of the scientists reacting when Philae finally landed was something else**. I was young when the shuttle program started, so I never really experienced the anticipation and thrill of us people getting our collective shit together to do a science first in this way.

"Rosetta and Philae" by Megan Stringfellow (Stringfellow Arts & Crafts on Etsy)

** Nothing like the movies, in an excellent way. No soundtrack, no intense close-ups of intense faces, lots of people just sitting around in control, waiting. It was a hilarious reminder of how much our expectation of these things is shaped by movies.
* Although, as an adult I also got to experience Chris Hadfield singing David Bowie's Space Oddity in the International Space Station, which counts, I think:

I was a trekkie as a teenager (Star Trek the Next Generation, please, and anything after) and still am, I must confess. As an impressionable 13-year-old in a small town, Star Trek shaped my moral universe in a way that eclipsed my religious upbringing, fed my craving for the big questions of life, and started my life-long crush on Captain Picard (of course). Alas, this was before the internet, so I was a solitary trekkie girl, unaware of the larger trekkie culture and very aware that in the real world at that time, that kind of stuff was for boys.

But it was the sense of possibility that plucked at my heart strings (not with Picard, with science....unfortunately?) And here we are, using planets' gravity to fling a spacecraft across our solar system to rendezvous with a lump of rock a gazillion kilometres away on a ten-year-mission.

Seriously. That's a needlepoint Picard on our living room wall, a birthday present to me from a dear friend who knows.

Safiya's real excitement started when she realised that the Rosetta mission started when she was born and here she was, getting to witness its culmination. It was also fueled by her own recently discovered love for Star Trek the Next Generation (her favourite character is Data). After Philae's release I kind of lost it when they said its main thrusters had failed. Its main thrusters had failed like many a Star Trek shuttle craft. Be still my beating heart :) Upon which Safiya reminded me that she hadn't seen that happen yet (we've only just started Season Two in our nightly family STNG marathon), so she didn't get it. But that equipment failure was also part of the thrill. This was a real problem for the mission: what were they going to do? Science in Action, right?

Star Trek Inspired Quiet Book by Julie Bell (pattern available on juliebell Etsy shop)

In the end, all I've got is thanks. Thanks for a world of connection where geeks can find other geeks and discuss the things they love a little more easily. Thanks for a world where Safiya can wear the Lord of the Rings patch on her backpack with pride (I'm guessing a Star Trek insignia is soon to follow). Thanks for Nerdfighters, and Neil deGrasse Tyson and Cosmos, and where the aftermath of a scientist making a bad decision is this and this.

So thanks, ESA Rosetta mission. Thanks from this one little person in Toronto for the privilege of watching you guys do your stuff and experiencing for real where no one has gone before (couldn't help it :)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And Dugal loves that sculpture of Rosetta and Philae, plus I love that he saw the video and exclaimed in delight, "Chris Hadfield!" If you were on Facebook, you could see my profile pic -- me and Chris Hadfield, the only time I got a fan pic with someone at work. (I actually got to hear him speak Russian while he told us a story about the space station. Squeeee!)