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January 02, 2006

Galileo ascends the heavens

So the European Space Agency has managed to get it's Galileo satelite aloft at last. At 3.4 billion Euro something of a snip, even if it had to be launched on a Russian rocket. The project is aimed at providing an alternative service to the US Based GPS and one of the spurs to this is the fact that GPS is essentially a military tool which does not offer the same accuracy to civilian users as it does to the military - or so they say. Frankly, my little car mounted GPS unit is accurate to within about thiry feet as far as I can see which is as accurate as I need it to be!

I can't help wondering what Galileo himself would have made of this, particularly what he would have made of his name being given to a space craft which will carry out a task which, if one is strictly correct, will refute the principle he initially espoused, of our place in the centre of the Cosmos. I wonder if he and Nicolas Copernicus have finally agreed their theories on this? After all, both drew on Aristotle and on Plato, although Galileo intially favoured the Platonic vision of the world being the centre of a spherical universe. I suppose in a sense he is, in the fact that we now have a network of geostationary satelites hanging about above our heads, and few not so stationary ones which do revolve around us, right. We are now at the centre of a small universe created by our technological advances in the last half century.

Leaving aside the realms of fantasy, one can only applaud the achievement of the ESA in getting this satellite aloft. It will enhance the global navigation systems, and it will also provide us with a great deal of useful information as it whizzes around above us. It is also an example of how well certain sections of the EU dream work. Co-operation between scientists and other technological efforts and agencies is a great way forward, a pity that it seems to have to carry the burden of a useless and expensive political bureaucracy as well. Let's face it, the politicians and the bureaucrats are simply a drain on the enterprise that things like the Galileo project epitomise - and quite often jeopardise by their stupidity and strict application of "rules" written by idiots in offices with no understanding of what is to be achieved by someone else.

As a UK resident, I am saddened by the fact that no British Scientists or UK based technology companies have had an input into the satellite, not all that surprising as Whitehall has notoriously cut and restricted funding for all our ventures in the direction of space. If half the money wasted on some of Mr Blair's attempts to socially engineer society were spent on more projects like this one, the investment in the economy and in technology would create a major jobs boom. A pity therefore that Galileo must be seen as something achieved by men of vision in France, Germany, Spain and Italy - but not particularly in the UK. It would be nice to think that, with the UK, Germany and France being the three big funders of the EU, a little of that funding to the ESA would have come to UK based firms or scientists, but it seems that, thanks to the shortsighted policies of Labour and the Civil Service, it has not.

I suppose we should all rejoice that the EU is at least in this area, much more forward thinking than the UK. Perhaps this success will kick a few of the closed minds of Westminster and Whitehall into realising that the exploration and exploitation of space is very much part of the 21st Century. But then, pigs might fly one day!

Personally I salute the achievement of the ESA, and I hope that Galileo will not prove as controversial as its namesake!

Posted by The Gray Monk at January 2, 2006 12:56 PM

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