A symbol of the European project's success? Photo: Getty
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Take me to your MEP: Rosetta shows Britain at its best working with the EU

The European Space Agency shows what Britain, France,  Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and 10 other European countries can achieve working together.

Last week I was transfixed, as I watched the genius of human intelligence at its exploring best. Images sent directly from the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko are astonishing proof of what the European Space Agency (ESA) has achieved. Many of you may have mourned like I did, as ESA announced via social media that Philae's batteries had finally given out, but don't let that dim the light of the incredible achievement of landing a manmade craft on a small comet 500m miles from Earth and getting information back. Philae's 60-hour primary mission was completed, with data safely returned to Mission Control in Darmstadt. And as ESA have assured us, it's not over yet.

I say what the ESA has achieved, but once again this a meaningless acronym. What I really mean is what Britain has achieved, together with France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and 10 other European countries. Because eight different British firms took the lead in the build and operation of the Rosetta satellite and her landing craft Philae. The entire project, from mission control systems, to those crucial batteries that kept Philae alive as the hours ticked down and the engineers raced to conduct all the experiments for which they had originally launched Rosetta into the heavens.

They did it, and I couldn't help but enjoy a small whoop of joy, both for the astonishing achievement of the ESA's mission, and for British engineering. The money invested in this project has provided Britain with high quality jobs, high quality scientific research, and high quality engineering. The UK is now looked to as a centre of excellence in space and aerospace engineering with the sector employing more than 28,000 people in businesses which combined generate an annual turnover of £9bn. What's more, the sector is growing at an average rate of seven per cent per year.  

World class space technologies and world firsts in space missions are no longer the preserve of the US and Russia, as even NASA had to admit to its followers online last week that this was a European project, not theirs as many assumed.

And all this came for a cool 15 pence per person per year. In fact, this 19 year project to build a satellite and get it to fly for a decade across the solar system in pursuit of a comet 500 million miles away from planet Earth, and to get it to land successfully for the first time in human history, has cost each European citizen just £2.78. In total over all those years.

All this in exchange for a world leading industry in space technologies, and a chance to glimpse upon something never before seen by human eyes. Not a bad deal really, is it?

Whatever happens to Rosetta, it is already an heroic achievement. And I have faith, grounded in the best scientific predictions, that this is not the last we will hear from the little lander.

This is something great that we have done together, proving what is possible for Britain, and for Europe. Let's take a moment to reflect on just what an achievement this is and be inspired.

Clare Moody MEP, member of the European Parliament industry, research and energy committee and the Galileo Interinstitutional Panel

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Boris Johnson isn't risking his political life over Heathrow

The anti-Heathrow campaigner was never a committed environmentalist. 

A government announcement on expanding London’s airports is expected today, and while opposition forces have been rallying against the expected outcome - a third runway at Heathrow - the decision could also be a divisive one for the ruling Conservative party. A long consultation period will allow these divisions to fester. 

Reports suggest that up to 60 Conservative MPs are against expansion at the Heathrow site. The Prime Minister’s own constituents are threatening legal action, and the former London mayoral candidate, Zac Goldsmith, has promised to step down as MP for Richmond rather than let the airport develop.

But what of Boris Johnson? The politician long synonymous with Heathrow opposition - including a threat to lie down “in front of those bulldozers” - is expected to call the decision a mistake. But for a man unafraid to dangle from a zipwire, he has become unusually reticent on the subject.

The reticence has partly been imposed upon him. In a letter to her cabinet ministers, Theresa May has granted them freedom from the usual rules of collective responsibility (under which cabinet ministers are required to support government positions). But she has also requested that they refrain from speaking out in the Commons, from “actively” campaigning against her position, and from calling “into question the decision making process itself”.  

Johnson is not about to start cheering for Heathrow. But unlike Goldsmith, he is no committed environmentalist - and he's certainly a committed politician.  

Boris’s objections to the expansion at Heathrow have all too often only extended as far as the lives of his London constituents. These local impacts are not to be belittled – in his role of mayor of London, he rightly pointed to the extreme health risks of increased noise and air pollution. And his charisma and profile have also boosted community campaigns around these issues. 

But when it comes to reducing emissions, Johnson is complacent. He may have come a long way since a 2013 Telegraph article in which he questioned whether global warming was real. Yet his plan to build an alternative “hub” airport in the Thames Estuary would have left the question of cutting UK aviation emissions worryingly un-resolved. This lack of curiosity is alarming considering his current job as foreign secretary. 

And there are reasons to be concerned. According to Cait Hewitt at the Aviation Environment Federation, the UK fails to meet its targets for CO2 reduction. And the recent UN deal on aviation emission mitigation doesn’t even meet the commitments of the UK’s own Climate Change Act, let alone the more stringent demands of the Paris Agreement. “Deciding that we’re going to do something that we know is going to make a problem worse, before we’ve got an answer, is the wrong move”, said Hewitt.

There is a local environmental argument too. Donnachadh McCarthy, a spokesperson from the activist group “Rising Up”, says the pollution could affect Londoners' health: "With 70 per cent of flights taken just by 15 per cent of the UK's population... this is just not acceptable in a civilised democracy.”

The way Johnson tells it, his reason for staying in government is a pragmatic one. “I think I'd be better off staying in parliament to fight the case, frankly," he told LBC Radio in 2015. And he's right that, whatever the government’s position, the new “national policy statement” to authorise the project will likely face a year-long public consultation before a parliamentary vote in late 2017 or early 2018. Even then the application will still face a lengthy planning policy stage and possible judicial review. 

But if the foreign secretary does fight this quietly, in the back rooms of power, it is not just a loss to his constituents. It means the wider inconsistencies of his position can be brushed aside - rather than exposed and explored, and safely brought down to ground. 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.