How the Philae lander has renewed my faith

As I am writing this blog, I continue to switch between this page and live coverage of the Rosetta Mission, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) attempt to land a probe on a comet.

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I won’t know until after I publish this if the project is successful, but I have my fingers crossed.

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The images from the control room are mundane. There are banks of flat screen monitors on the wall with words and inscrutable tables of figures too small for me to discern. Not that I would have a single crumb of an idea what they said even if I could read them.
Meanwhile, two or three frumpy scientists of indeterminate age walk about the control room in wrinkled collared shirts and jeans with their security badges swinging back and forth.
A few are seated in front of a bank of computer consoles, but they don’t seem to be doing much.
They look too young to be involved in a project of such historic magnitude.
The room is practically empty even though its about 3 p.m. where they are. There is an estimated two hours left before they know if they’re effort is going to be successful.
Under such circumstances, I expected to see a control room packed wall to ceiling with nervous-looking people pacing. Since its Europe, I also expected to see them chain-smoking.
But the live feed is surprisingly calm.
I should be bored by the coverage, but I’m riveted to my seat. My only regret is that the ensuing press conference about the success or failure of this endeavor will not have the NASA logo featured prominently somewhere in the room.
Its largely because the anticipation of this event is allowing me to recall the sense of wonder that was so much a part of my childhood when space exploration was a big part of our national conversation and aspirations for our future, which included flying cars, video phones and visions of a space station orbiting the Earth around 1992.
Well, we got two of them so far. I do wish the International Space Station featured a swank hotel lobby with a martini bar. I’m sure the astronauts in the space station wish the same thing, but you can’t have everything … yet.
I was a month from my 4th birthday when Apollo 11 landed on the moon, so my memory of that time is unreliable at best. Yet I can recall my parents sitting my sister and I right in front of the television that evening and a peculiar sense of awe as we watched news coverage of the event.
Even at that age, at some simple level, I grasped that I was witnessing something of great importance, even if I was too young to comprehend the full significance of the event.
My wife’s grandfather would never be convinced that it all wasn’t an elaborate hoax.
When I relate this experience to people, there is a part of me that is frustrated that I will never be able to convey the sense of wonder that the Apollo missions had on me and my classmates at school.
The astronauts, the rocket launches at Cape Canaveral, the ocean rescues and the references to the mystical place called Houston (I didn’t connect the city with Texas until much later in life) all fed my imagination throughout my childhood.
It’s been a good long while since an event in space exploration has so fired my imagination in quite the same way, but somehow the Rosetta spacecraft and Philae lander have accomplished that very thing.
Even the few setbacks that have occurred in the past month has not dimmed my optimism nor diminished my anticipation for future exploration.
I’m not smart enough to be there. I’ll leave that to those frumpy young people. Nevertheless, my faith in our progress is restored.

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