It should have been the easiest leg of the trip, just over an hour’s drive up the road from home. The kids had all got to school on time, had everything they needed (or, in the case of the girls, more than they needed) and waited at the gate to get on the bus. The trailer was loaded, secured and the bus started. Oh dear, no lights on the trailer. So everyone sat down at the gate while the bus disappeared around the corner to the auto-electricians to get it fixed. Not a problem. Should only take ten minutes.
An hour-and-a-half later the bus finally came back, the brake lights on the trailer shining bright as it stopped. Everyone piled on, heaving sighs of relief. The trip, however, took longer than planned and we couldn’t find the satellite dish we were looking for. It should have been there along that road, but no one saw it or the gate with ‘European Space Agency’ plainly written on it. So we arrived at the next town and asked for instructions. Go back the way you came, they said, it’s obvious that way.
Sure enough, as we drove back down the road, there it was, a huge dish rising out of the hills. ’Like a big, white flower’ one of the girls said, and she was right.
Up close the ‘big’ became ‘enormous’. It’s a deep space satellite dish run by a European research group. At present they’re working on a fourteen year programme (The Rosetta Project) to rendezvous a satellite with a comet to take samples of it. They also help in the launch of satellites around the world, but it’s all done from Europe.
Fortunately, we happened to arrive on the day when the aerial was down for maintenance and the dish wasn’t in use. So we were allowed to see inside the workings and climb up under the dish. I have to admit to feeling decidedly ill when I realised that the steps we were climbing ended outside on a landing about sixty metres up, but, oh, the view!
When we were all safely back on the ground (albeit on wobbly legs in my case) and out of the way, they turned the dish so that we could see inside. A huge thing moving so smoothly, it was incredible. The kids freaked a bit when they saw the landing they had just been standing on turn vertical, but I guess they always check there’s no one out there before they move the dish.
It was a fascinating visit. My only disappointment was that I didn’t see Sam Neill in his comfy brown cardigan (as in ‘The Dish’) . That would have really made my day.
Facts about teenagers- No.1: Teenage boys who are afraid of heights don’t admit it. They simply turn a strange shade of green and hug the walls a lot.