The Beagle's away, and the Celts are still everywhere, maybe

by Suw on June 2, 2003

At long last, Mars Express and the Beagle II lander are safely away! Launched today in a Russian Soyuz rocket, it?s sending back telemetry and all systems are functioning normally.

We now have only six months to wait before it reaches Mars, when we will find out if the ESA knows the difference between yards and meters. Call me biased, but my money is on a yes to that.

NASA, of course, with all its super-duper fandangally pretty American technology and super-duper ohlookdidwereallywasteallthatmoney budget, is also launching Mars probes this month, although I?m not sure whether JPL have yet managed to learn how to count to ten with out taking off their shoes and socks.

For all their attempts to strut their stuff as the world?s leading space exploration agency, NASA couldn?t tie their own shoelaces without instructions and some nice big diagrams.

They haemorrhage money through inefficiency and incompetence, and their shiny mantra of “better faster cheaper” has ended up costing them dearly, and not just in terms of cold hard cash. The loss of both the Mars Orbiter and Polar Lander missions were serious PR disasters in themselves, but the cost in human, PR and scientific terms of the Columbia catastrophe is uncountable.

On the other hand, the ESA have been seen as also-rans for some time now, but with the launch of Mars Express and Beagle II, they prove that you can do real science in space on a tight budget, you just have to be a bit inventive about it.

I really hope that we get to hear the obvious line “The Beagle Has Landed” in six months time, and that we get some high quality data back from the red planet. Not only would it be a poke in NASA?s eye, but it would also give a huge boost to European space exploration.

After all, there?s no rule that says we can?t do it a lot better, cheaper and faster than NASA.

Meantime, though, the damn Celts are everywhere. Maybe.

The NY Times (registration required) and the International Herald Tribune both run stories on research that was done last year into the ancestry of a selection of British males which discovered that actually, the English aren?t all Anglo-Saxons, but often Celts. This implies, they say, that the Anglo-Saxons didn?t drive out the Celts, but married them instead.

The BBC commissioned the research for their tediously dull series Blood of the Vikings, which was about as watchable as a wallful of Dulux?s newest colour. The data has now been published in Current Biology, a medical rag where I used to work, hence, I think, people jumping on what is actually quite an old story.

(Well, they?re not jumping on the story because I used to work for Current Biology. Obviously. Although as an aside I would like to say that that particular job, as Editorial Assistant, does remain my longest ever job, and I left there in May 96. I was there nearly two years and jumped shortly before I was pushed, having become office photocopier queen and thus realising that there was, therefore, nothing left to achieve.)

It?s also an old story that?s contradicted by this piece on the BBC Wales website which discusses research showing that the Welsh are genetically different to the English. This suggests that the idea that the Anglo-Saxons pushed the Celts out of England into the Celtic fringe of Wales, Ireland and Scotland is actually more accurate than the theory that everyone got on spiffingly, shagged and made babies.

Me, I know the Welsh are different. They don?t have the laundry gene for one.

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