Insight article

Philae needs a hero

The news that we have landed a probe called Philae on a comet called 67P is breathtaking. And the probe was launched, on its 4-billion mile journey, a full 10 years ago. (The office-wall list of “things we forgot to pack” must have been fascinating and long.)

But scientific exploits always lack the attention they truly deserve. And there is one very good reason for that – they just don’t mean anything…

Hear me out. As an engineer myself, I am confident in arguing that the world we enjoy today is built to an overwhelming degree on the back of humanity’s accumulated scientific knowledge – structures, laws of motion, hygiene and, you know, computers. But why aren’t people generally a little more moved by news of events that may further enhance the lives we live?

The answer lies in the way the stories are told. Stories of scientific breakthroughs suffer by their very nature – they contain facts that we probably can’t yet relate to.

To help us make sense of them, great stories put a protagonist at the heart of the matter, and we judge the protagonist’s reactions and experiences in order to understand the story on our own terms.

So, next time you put a satellite on a comet and you want people to pay attention, think about sending someone up there too. And give the mission an objective we can relate to. Say, the comet contains some natural resource that’s running low back on Earth. And our hero is the only man who can tap that resource. Also, bring in a bit of everyday human drama… say, the hero’s protégé is making a move on his daughter. You could make the whole thing into a film and get the daughter’s dad’s band to do the soundtrack.

I think that would get people’s attention.

Nailia Tasseel