Space Cowboys: 'Clearly There Is No God'
. . . maybe this week NASA just settled the science versus religion debate for once and for all.
A huge lump of metal comes flying out of the sky at 200mph, crash lands in the United States, but it completely misses President George W Bush. Clearly there is no God; what more proof does anyone need?
Friday September 10, 2004
On Wednesday, Nasa scientists watched in shock as their Genesis solar project ended in disaster. "I can't believe it" they all said. "A space mission that went wrong? This is completely unprecedented. I mean, the last time a major space project ended in embarrassing failure was way, way back in January when our Mars rover broke down, and then before that the Beagle 2 project lost contact with its probe, oh and then there was last year's Columbia disaster, oh and the Hubble Telescope fiasco, but apart from that our record is very impressive." From now on Nasa is going to launch its rockets on the 4th of July, just so that everyone thinks they're meant to explode.
We had been promised a dramatic re-entry for the Genesis capsule, which was set to return its precious payload of atomic solar particles after a three-year mission. Stunt pilots hired from Hollywood for the occasion were on standby waiting to hook up with the capsule as it entered the Earth's atmosphere, but they failed to connect because they couldn't see out of their Jedi helmets. "Sorry, can we go for another take on that one?" "Er - no, actually."
After the parachutes failed to open the capsule crashed to earth and the scientists found their precious parcel smashed open and the contents scattered all over the ground; it couldn't have been worse if they had paid the extra for Royal Mail registered post. The whole point of this trip was to bring back pure uncontaminated atoms from the sun. Now they're going to have to gather up everything they find on that patch of ground in Utah and painstakingly analyse all of it. "It's amazing; solar explosions seem to be emitting old burger cartons, cigarette butts and Wal-Mart shopping bags."
The team did their best to remain positive: "There are a lot of things that had to happen in series and we got just about all of them done and we just did not get the last two or three done," said Genesis project manager Don Sweetnam. Oh well, that's all right then. Maybe I'm being a little picky, but if I was plummeting to the ground at 200mph, and one of those last details included the failure of my parachute to open, I'd struggle to be upbeat about all the other things that had gone so well.
How do they get the insurance for all these missions? Perhaps they just have to hope they get a particularly dim telesales rep when they ring the insurance company. "So, are there any additional drivers you would like listed on the policy?"
"Well there are no actual 'drivers' as such, it's a remote-control space explorer capsule costing $250m."
"Right, no additional drivers and will you be using it for business or leisure?"
"Well, mainly for catching atoms ejected in solar explosions."
"I'll click 'leisure' then, and can I have the postcode where the vehicle will be kept, please?"
"Well, for the next two years it will be in orbit at temperatures of thousands of degrees, trying to dodge solar explosions, meteorites and collisions with the planet Mercury."
"That's all right, sir, as long as it's not going to be parked in Hackney or Liverpool."
The so-called Genesis project received its massive funding before they realised that it had nothing to do with taking Phil Collins into deep space. In fact, the naming of the craft is not without an irony of its own, since the purpose of this trip was to inform us about the origins of our solar system. Yet the president who is paying for it all has passed an education bill allowing creationism to creep back into American schools. Why does he need to spend millions on the space probe, to find out what he says Americans can read in the Book of Genesis? Could it be that he's only claiming to take the Bible at face value in order to secure votes in America's bible belt? Or maybe they just told him that with all that fire coming off the sun there must be some oil in there somewhere?
With the tide of Christian fundamentalism that is increasingly directing scientific funding in America, soon Nasa won't be able to send out any more probes unless they are looking for a big bloke with a white beard sitting on a cloud surrounded by angels. But though their latest mission has ended in disaster, maybe this week Nasa just settled the science versus religion debate for once and for all. A huge lump of metal comes flying out of the sky at 200mph, crash lands in the United States, but it completely misses President George W Bush. Clearly there is no God; what more proof does anyone need?
address: The Guardian
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