Why the Rosetta Mission was worth €1.4bn

Why the Rosetta Mission was worth €1.4bn

(for Ian Moore)

I have found the success of the Rosetta Mission properly inspiring, but I know many who have been cynical about the purpose and cost of the mission.

Can those two perspectives be reconciled? Was the cost justified, especially in the times of austerity that we are enduring?

I guess we might address the latter point first: We should put aside, the current (and hopefully) transient financial fix we are in. Due largely to the failure of the crooked worldwide banking system, this was neither apparent nor predictable 20 or so years ago when the mission was being planned and funding was being approved.

That funding has cost each European citizen about €3.50/£2.90 over the period 1996-2015. That’s less than €0.20 (16p) a year.

And what did we get for that money? (Apart from Ian’s “expensive answer is to put a washing machine on a comet?”)

We (and that we equals the human race) got to do something quite extraordinary that will answer some fundamental questions about the creation of the universe.

Those scientists devised a plan that found, orbited and landed a hugely sophisticated piece of equipment on a tiny object some 500,000 km (300,000 miles) away travelling at 18 km/s (40,000 mph).

That object is a likely remnant of the birth of the solar system. Comets may be the source of terrestrial water or more… We don’t know for sure and want to find out as much as we can. It’s the core of science; to discover.

By this bold and ambitious experiment we stand a chance of finding out new and important information and knowledge.

Is this pursuit to better our understanding not worth the cost of a pint of beer over 20 years? We might compare and contrast the cost of say, a different rocket science: 161 Cruise missiles @ $1.4m each, launched by the US/UK at the outset of the Libyan intervention (i.e. nearly quarter of a $billion in just a few weeks).

I wonder whether the citizens of the newly united kingdoms of Castille & Aragon were unhappy when Queen Isabella funded the voyages of Columbus?

Sources: BBC, ESA and Center for Public Integrity
Main image courtesy ESA

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