You are now a member of a species capable of harpooning comets and telling the world about it at the speed of light.
— Matthew Exley (@henley_regatta) November 12, 2014
Congratulations to the rocket scientists from the European Space Agency who successfully landed a probe on the duck shaped comet 67P. It makes me proud to be European, a fine thought amid the relentless Euro-skepticism from UKIP and the Tories. As Nick Cohen said in the Spectator today, it’s worth remembering that support for the EU is at a 23 year high, with a plurality of British voters favouring membership. 56% of people favour staying in, while 36% of people would leave. Yes yes, the ESA is not an EU body, but apparently 20% of its funding originates from the EU. Let us just say that the success of this mission shows the value of international cooperation towards a shared vision, that could never be achieved by just one of the countries involved.
I haven’t looked but I’m sure there will be plenty of journalese about tomorrow concerning the popularity of trending hashtags around the touch down of the PHILAE landing craft. I’m glad the internet allowed me to follow its progress live. Space missions are great fun to watch online. I’ve followed shuttle landings and listened to the meditative radio communications between Houston and various orbiting craft. The inter-planetary scale of the communications can never fail to supply a much needed sense of perspective on life. And at the same time, there is an extraordinary feeling of being at one with the rest of humanity was we slowly but surely explore the universe. President Richard Nixon’s words to the Apollo XI astronauts echo and inspire:
For one priceless moment in the whole history of man, all the people on this Earth are truly one; one in their pride in what you have done
It turns out that the best source of news on this comet probe is XKCD http://t.co/z02Fuq0XnY
— Robert Sharp रॉबट शारप (@robertsharp59) November 12, 2014
I was part of a large but quirky community yesterday: those who followed the unfolding excitement of the landing through the web comic xkcd. Instead of watching a BBC or Guardian live blog, and instead of scrolling and refreshing a particular hashtag, I was informed of updates through the medium of pen on paper (scanned and uploaded to the web, natch). Randall Munroe, the creator of the comic, apparently drew each image in the moment. Once I realised that the normally static panel was being updated to reflect the actual status of the mission, I decided this would be my only news source.
To my mind, there was a pleasing discord in this. In this tech-savvy era we often make jokes about sending messages via ‘slow’ technologies like carrier pigeons, jungle drums or dial-up modems. And yet today I followed an incredibly sophisticated technological achievement through hand-drawn updates. It’s like a princess sending a painted portrait to a potential suitor, or court illustrations in pastel on parchment. It’s to Randall’s credit that he was able to create something so archaic that nevertheless belonged in the moment. He has form for this sort of thing.
A related act of international collaboration: Users on the xkcd sub-reddit collected all the images and made GIF animations so you can see the full sequence.
— Tony Rice (@rtphokie) November 12, 2014