Friday, December 09, 2005

We Might Have Lift-Off

December 5th and 6th was a perfect time and Berlin was an ideal place to hold a conference of European Ministers to discuss the objectives and priorities of the European Space Agency (ESA). There were no competing conferences on global warming, curing Aids, feeding Africa, controlling avian flu, or preventing earthquakes. Conveniently, with the new EU Directive on Eliminating Work in the Workplace, Mondays and Tuesdays are pretty slow back home in any case. Selecting Berlin as the venue also made it easy to pick up some Christmas marzipan and get one of those giant nutcrackers that look like a Prussian guardsman on crack cocaine.

17 European countries and Canada were represented. (Canada decided to be part of Europe after President Bush asked Secretary Rice ‘who owns that big empty space between Minneapolis and Anchorage?’) The ministers met to approve the budget of 8.8 billion euros to fund the ExoMars mission, plans for manned missions to the Moon and Mars, development of the polar ice-monitoring Cryosat 2 satellite, and implementation of GMES - the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security programme.

Although the delegates were asked to put national priorities aside in the interest of European cooperation, tensions between France and Great Britain immediately flared up. Dominique Perignon, speaking for France, argued forcefully that French should be adopted as the official language of the ESA. Perignon said, ‘Eef zere iz antellijon laff on Mears, it spiks Franche.’ Nigel Ponsonby-Smythe, British Astronomer Royal, defended the use of English by the ESA. ‘Crikey’, he gasped, ‘two days of Dom Perignon and I’ve got this horrific headache! I could murder a pint about now.’

Economic disagreements also surfaced during the conference. Athanasios Stavropopolous, Greek Minister of Technology lobbied hard for subsidies to compensate farmers for not growing olives on the Moon. Paddy O’Connor, Ireland’s High Commissioner for Development demanded that Irish bricklayers be given preferential treatment in bids to build the Cryostat 2 satellite. Sweden pushed their flat-pack design for the Mars Lander, pointing out that it includes two end tables and a bookshelf and is very easy to assemble. Cyprus requested that their entry in the Eurosong Contest should be beamed back to the Earth from outer space.

In an attempt to calm the proceedings, Herr Professor Doktor Werner von Stülpnägle, Germany’s Oberkommandant of Rocket Science, offered to apologize to the Netherlands in advance if the GMES launch vehicle goes off course and levels Rotterdam.

In the final report of the conference, it was agreed that manned space flight is very expensive and a lot of hard work. It was decided that it would be much easier to ask the Chinese, the Russians and the Americans to do it and that Europe should commit to supply designer luggage for the astronauts.

In a show of friendship to Turkey, the delegates unanimously agreed to a resolution that no lunar missions should touch down on the surface whilst the moon was in its crescent phase.


Blogger birdwoman said...

ooh, designer luggage for astronauts. Can you buy it at Target?


12:54 PM  
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