Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Clip-Winged Messenger

That there is the far side of the planet Mercury - the one always pointed at the sun, that we don't get to see. Things like this don't make the front pages any more, of course, but in fact this is a pretty rare event these days - a genuine, honest-to-goodness piece of New Frontier. A place seen by human eyes for the first time. Those less disposed to be impressed will point out, understandably, that it's just another load of craters and dust. They have a point, but they're missing THE point. This is sense-of-wonder stuff. It's why kids want to become scientists. This picture should be posted on every school noticeboard in the civilized world, dammit!

I'm reminded of a conversation I once heard at a job club, when a quarry miner was asked what made his work special. After a short pause he said something like "when I chip away a piece of rock, I'm the first human being to ever see what's behind it." It was an image I've never forgotten, and it made me wish that there were more quarry miners in government. Here we are worrying about financial irregularities and the definition of "incompetence", while at the front of the class, weary teacher is desperately trying to grab our attention; "Look, children! Look! It's another planet, for Pete's sake!"

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