August 4th, 2010

Affairs of Scientists

Twitter: Rocketeddy vs UK Space Agency

I'm very happy that the UK now has an official space agency and even happier that ESA has finally opened a UK facility - indeed, I wouldn't be unhappy about the idea of working there in the future. That said, I know spin when I see it.

So when I read in the UKSA announcement about the ESA facility at Harwell, I was unhappy (and surprised) to read:
"The facility at Harwell is a new departure for ESA, as it is the first time that it has set up for business at an existing large science and technology facility."
Because this isn't true. 20 years ago, in 1990, ESA established the European Astronaut Centre at the DLR site in Cologne - and both are still there today.

I tried to poke UKSA via twitter about this, and this was the resulting "conversation":
rocketeddy @spacegovuk The first time ESA sets up at an existing site? What about the EAC at DLR in Cologne?
spacegovuk @rocketeddy #uksa Please note it is the first time ESA has set up a facility in the UK
rocketeddy @spacegovuk my ref was to "first time that it has set up for business at an existing large science and technology facility" not "1st in UK"
spacegovuk @rocketeddy #uksa EAC is based on an Aerospace site (DLR) whereas Harwell is a general Science and Technology site
rocketeddy @spacegovuk I agree, but DLR was still "an existing large science and technology facility" & btw also has a broad remit

Kudos to them for responding, but their arguments are very weak.

There is no dispute that this is the first ESA facility in the UK, but I consider making a claim this is "a new departure for ESA" because DLR research is "Aerospace" and Harwell is "general science" is a bit ludicrous, considering the DLR research institutes at Cologne include medicine, materials science, propulsion tech, aerodynamics, thermodynamics, solar energy, spacecraft operations, simulations, software and IT. It may have an "aerospace" focus, but that doesn't make it any less "an existing large science and technology facility".

I was also unsure whether to be insulted or amused at them giving me a link to the EAC website, as if I didn't know what it was. I think that was quite ironic.