The European Space Agency shows what Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and 10 other European countries can achieve working together, writes Clare Moody MEP, member of the European Parliament industry, research and energy committee and the Galileo Interinstitutional Panel.
Last week I was transfixed, as I watched the genius of human intelligence at its exploring best. Images sent directly from the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko are astonishing proof of what the European Space Agency (ESA) has achieved. Many of you may have mourned like I did, as ESA announced via social media that Philae's batteries had finally given out, but don't let that dim the light of the incredible achievement of landing a manmade craft on a small comet 500m miles from Earth and getting information back. Philae's 60-hour primary mission was completed, with data safely returned to Mission Control in Darmstadt. And as ESA have assured us, it's not over yet.
I say what the ESA has achieved, but once again this a meaningless acronym. What I really mean is what Britain has achieved, together with France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and 10 other European countries. Because eight different British firms took the lead in the build and operation of the Rosetta satellite and her landing craft Philae. The entire project, from mission control systems, to those crucial batteries that kept Philae alive as the hours ticked down and the engineers raced to conduct all the experiments for which they had originally launched Rosetta into the heavens.
They did it, and I couldn't help but enjoy a small whoop of joy, both for the astonishing achievement of the ESA's mission, and for British engineering. The money invested in this project has provided Britain with high quality jobs, high quality scientific research, and high quality engineering. The UK is now looked to as a centre of excellence in space and aerospace engineering with the sector employing more than 28,000 people in businesses which combined generate an annual turnover of £9bn. What's more, the sector is growing at an average rate of seven per cent per year.
World class space technologies and world firsts in space missions are no longer the preserve of the US and Russia, as even NASA had to admit to its followers online last week that this was a European project, not theirs as many assumed.
And all this came for a cool 15 pence per person per year. In fact, this 19 year project to build a satellite and get it to fly for a decade across the solar system in pursuit of a comet 500 million miles away from planet Earth, and to get it to land successfully for the first time in human history, has cost each European citizen just £2.78. In total over all those years.
All this in exchange for a world leading industry in space technologies, and a chance to glimpse upon something never before seen by human eyes. Not a bad deal really, is it?
Whatever happens to Rosetta, it is already an heroic achievement. And I have faith, grounded in the best scientific predictions, that this is not the last we will hear from the little lander.
This is something great that we have done together, proving what is possible for Britain, and for Europe. Let's take a moment to reflect on just what an achievement this is and be inspired.
This article originally appeared in the New Statesman.