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Email: / Phone: +31 (0)20 673 4774 / Mobile: +31 (0)6 520 66 499

It’s hard to KISS when you’re a scientist

Learning to KISS (Keep It Short & Simple) is not as easy as it sounds – especially if you are a scientist working on the latest flagship project of the European Space Agency. ESA’s five Sentinel missions are part of Copernicus, “the most ambitious Earth observation programme to date”.

But why is it called Copernicus, we asked innocently during the first coffee break at ESRIN (lesson number one: avoid acronyms), ESA’s earth observation centre in the beautiful town of Frascati just outside Rome. Mark Fuller, Bibi Smink and I were there last week to do some media training.

Sound byte

I was hoping for a KISS in reply but it turned out to be a little more complicated. Should we say Copernicus is named after the 16th century Polish or German astronomer? According to Wikipedia (English and Dutch versions) he was also a scientist, translator, jurist, mathematician, economist, diplomat and doctor, but I’m trying to KISS.

esrin 4

esrin 5

If you want to be accurate (and scientists do, to their credit) Nicolaus Copernicus lived in the what was the Polish kingdom of the Prussian empire in a place which later became part of Germany (he was ethnically German). Not an easy sound byte.

But the Sentinel people we worked with in Frascati last week were great and enthusiastically took on the challenge of explaining to the general public why we need to send new satellites into space to monitor what’s happening to the earth.

Guarding the earth

And although Mark, Bibi and I are all fairly sceptical by nature and/or profession, we came away impressed by the complexity and value of these satellites that are going to guard over the earth and collect data that will help us to deal with natural disasters more efficiently, trace oil spills and combat climate change.

The first Sentinel satellite is due to be launched in spring 2014 and will orbit the polar caps using radar to make day and night images in all weathers on land and at sea.

By the way, the coffee in Italy really is sensational – on the first day of the training I broke my own world record for the number of macchiatos consumed in one day and was kindly banned from having more than three cups by the rest of the team on the following day.

By Abi Daruvalla