Repeat visitors to my little corner of Personal Liberty already know that I fancy myself a bit of an amateur astronomer. Let’s face it: Space is cool, and the science involved in moving around outside the cozy confines of our pale blue dot is even more so. Even the math required to successfully put a man-made machine anywhere beyond the next county over is fascinating stuff. I like science. I like math. You can keep your “Star Trek.” I’m more interested in the effort to go actual places where no man has gone before.
Earlier this week, the European Space Agency (ESA) completed a 10-year mission to fly the Rosetta spacecraft to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and deploy the Philae lander to give humanity its first worm’s-eye view of an environment that makes Detroit seem like Club Med. And the Rosetta mission is no small feat. Built, launched and controlled by a consortium of European counties, Rosetta didn’t so much land on 67P as it docked with it at hypersonic velocities, all in what spacecraft engineers refer to as “less than optimal conditions” and the rest of us refer to as “hell.”
Perhaps humanity’s visceral need to explore really is best served by cooperative effort. After all, while NASA spends its budget on combating so-called “global warming” and paying the Russians for serving as a taxi service to the International Space Station, the Europeans managed to park a spaceship on a comet. Perhaps man’s reach to the stars is simply too great a task for one country to handle on its own. But what if the ESA didn’t exist? What if the space race of the 1960s had never ended and every country capable of building a model rocket decided it, and it alone, were going to conquer the firmament solo? Here are my best guesses.
The German Rosetta would be grossly overengineered, complete with confusingly labeled buttons that serve no discernible purpose. It would be sleek, cosmetically flawless and extraordinarily fast; but it would also get impatient during gravity-assist maneuvers. The mission would fail after the planet Mars was late arriving to a rendezvous. Frustrated by the solar system’s refusal to cooperate with a planned timetable, the German Rosetta would end up flying to Jupiter, annexing the four Galilean moons and then promising it had no plans to expand its territory.
Their version would fly only in reverse and would surrender to the German Rosetta after hearing the Germans were still in Mars orbit.
Built largely from derelict 1960s-era scrap metal, held together by spot welds and duct tape, the Russian Rosetta would manage to reach the comet but then miss its target by a few miles. It would eventually float into a lazy elliptical orbit around the sun, transmitting coded images of a shirtless Vladimir Putin on an unmonitored frequency.
The British Rosetta would look fabulous, right down to the hand-finished interior. Though unmanned, it would boast a state-of-the-art stereo system with mislabeled controls that gets only one station. It would also feature a car alarm that goes off at random times for no particular reason. Eventually, it would reach its target, thanks to some nifty engineering patches designed by Canadians and implemented by Australians.
The Italian Rosetta would be shaped like a nuclear-powered arrowhead with functionless side strakes and oversized intakes. Its engines, which they mounted amidships for no good reason, would produce approximately the same amount of thrust necessary to reach Pluto in less than a decade; but they would break down every time the craft required a small vector adjustment. After delaying the launch due to the threat of rain, the Italians would eventually give up on the project when they learn someone will have to work weekends in order to keep the thing on target.
The Swiss Rosetta would be flawless in form, fit and function. It would make all its markers within one-tenth of a second of their predictions and arrive at 67P at the exact moment it was expected to. It would then transmit all of its findings back to Mission Control on time, at which point the program scientists would lock the data in a subterranean vault and refuse to even acknowledge they had it in the first place.
The Japanese Rosetta would be the size of a toaster, perform without a hitch and transmit its findings back in perfect sequence. Unfortunately, it would also be obsolete the moment it lifted off, and wouldn’t be compatible with the next year’s model, rendering its data — which transmits only in Japanese — worthless.
The South Koreans
Their Rosetta would look, sound and function almost identically to the Japanese version — except that it would transmit its data only in Korean and would have enough exterior lighting to be visible to the naked eye from Earth.
The North Koreans
The North Koreans wouldn’t need to build a Rosetta, since Kim Jong Un has already flown to CS and declared it to be North Korean territory. They would, however, attempt to build a missile to shoot down the Japanese and South Korean efforts, but it would end up at the bottom of the East Sea/Sea of Japan 10 minutes after launch.
Funded by the Saudi Arabians, built by Pakistani and Filipino laborers from Russian parts, and overseen by French scientists, the Arab Rosetta would be taller than the Eiffel Tower and would feature an almost all-glass exterior and an interior that looks like it was designed by Liberace’s interior decorator; and it would sit on a palm-tree-shaped launch pad. After discovering 93-octane gasoline isn’t a particularly useful fuel for space missions, the Saudis would abandon the project while Wahhabi clerics claimed it was just as well, since Allah forbids space travel.
They would deny building a Rosetta and send the scientists who designed it to re-education camps.
The American Rosetta would be named “Chuck Norris 3000” and would be four times larger than necessary. Featuring an array of functionless parts that were added post-design by government functionaries hoping to placate Big Labor, the American version would be covered in sponsors’ logos. And though unmanned, it would have reclining bucket seats and cup holders installed where control surfaces would have been. While its data collection and transmission gear — designed and built by the Japanese and Taiwanese subcontractors — would work, half the information would be lost because someone in Mission Control missed the linkup because they were down in the cafeteria, discussing last night’s episode of “Walking Dead” with the guys in accounting. Meanwhile, the Philae lander would have oversized tires and mud flaps with little Yosemite Sam pictograms. Instead of flags, both the Rosetta and Philae would deploy mechanical middle fingers every time another country’s spacecraft flew by.
All kidding aside, I congratulate the ESA on its success. I remember when the United States used to do cool stuff like that. Perhaps we shall again, someday. In the meantime, we’re waiting for the Russians to swing by and pick us up.