It may be that we can learn some more about the role of comets in transporting ice, and therefore water, through the heavens – and there are some who have speculated that we have comets to thank for the existence of the oceans on our planet.
At this very moment the scientists will be beginning to process the data – to understand more about the elements, the minerals, the isotopes, the molecules. There may be clues about our past and pointers to our future.
This mission is a colossal achievement. Millions of us have been watching Philae’s heart-stopping journey. Everyone in this country should be proud of Dr Taylor and his colleagues, and he has every right to let his feelings show.
Except, of course, that he wasn’t crying with relief. He wasn’t weeping with sheer excitement at this interstellar rendezvous. I am afraid he was crying because he felt he had sinned. He was overcome with guilt and shame for wearing what some people decided was an “inappropriate” shirt on television. “I have made a big mistake,” he said brokenly. “I have offended people and I am sorry about this.”
I watched that clip of Dr Taylor’s apology – at the moment of his supreme professional triumph – and I felt the red mist come down. It was like something from the show trials of Stalin, or from the sobbing testimony of the enemies of Kim Il-sung, before they were taken away and shot. It was like a scene from Mao’s cultural revolution when weeping intellectuals were forced to confess their crimes against the people.
Why was he forced into this humiliation? Because he was subjected to an unrelenting tweetstorm of abuse. He was bombarded across the internet with a hurtling dustcloud of hate, orchestrated by lobby groups and politically correct media organisations.
And so I want, naturally, to defend this blameless man. And as for all those who have monstered him and convicted him in the kangaroo court of the web – they should all be ashamed of themselves.
Yes, I suppose some might say that his Hawaii shirt was a bit garish, a bit of an eyeful. But the man is not a priest, for heaven’s sake. He is a space scientist with a fine collection of tattoos, and if you are an extrovert space scientist, that is the kind of shirt that you are allowed to wear.
As for the design of the garment, I have studied it as closely as the photos will allow, and I can’t see what all the fuss is about. I suppose there are women with long flowing hair and a certain amount of décolletage. But let’s not mince our words: there are no nipples; there are no buttocks; there is not even an exposed midriff, as far as I can see.
It’s the hypocrisy of it all that irritates me. Here is Kim Kardashian – a heroine and idol to some members of my family – deciding to bust out all over the place, and good for her. No one seeks to engulf her in a tweetstorm of rage. But why is she held to be noble and pure, while Dr Taylor is attacked for being vulgar and tasteless?
I think his critics should go to the National Gallery and look at the Rokeby Venus by Velázquez. Or look at the stuff by Rubens. Are we saying that these glorious images should be torn from the walls?
What are we all – a bunch of Islamist maniacs who think any representation of the human form is an offence against God? This is the 21st century, for goodness’ sake. And if you ask yourself why so few have come to the defence of the scientist, the answer is that no one dares.
No one wants to take on the rage of the web – by which people use social media to externalise their own resentments and anxieties, often anonymously and with far more vehemence than they really intend. No one wants to dissent – and no wonder our politics sometimes feels so sterilised and homogenised.
There must be room in our world for eccentricity, even if it offends the prudes, and room for the vague other-worldliness that often goes with genius. Dr Taylor deserves the applause of our country, and those who bash him should hang their own heads and apologise.