Heather Couper is an international broadcaster and writer on astronomy, space and science. Although a scientist by training, she has spent the last twenty years working entirely in the media. She has hosted many TV programmes and radio shows - including the long-running series Seeing Stars on BBC World Service. She has also written over 30 books, including The History of Astronomy and Universe. On 2 June 1999 the International Astronomical Union named asteroid number 3922 “Heather” in her honour.
I see science as a vision. As a landscape. As a perspective for us to reflect on the events that are happening in the world - and how to see a way ahead.
I’ll take the last statement first. Currently, science doesn’t have a great press. Stem-cell research, genetic modification and cloning are looked upon as unnatural. But science has the power to change lives, and to help humankind move forward. However - the bottom line is that I believe science underpins our whole existence. It’s the driver behind our culture, our mores, and our beliefs.
It’s incredible how science has gradually replaced mythology with rational explanation. The god Thor used to hurl thunderbolts; but now we know the reasons behind our electric skies. Deities - like Mars and Jupiter - used to grace our night skies. In the 21st century, we know that these are fascinating worlds in their own right: two of millions in the Universe.
When it comes to culture, I find it amazing that in just over 500 years, humankind has dethroned Earth from being the centre of the Universe. It’s become a mere blob circling an average, suburban, middle-age star in an unremarkable galaxy. And that says a lot about us. By discovering our real place in the cosmos, we’re now motivated to explore. And soon we will have people - who may even live next door - realising their dreams to travel into space, on to the Moon, and beyond.
When I think of the future, I wonder what those new cosmic visions and landscapes will open up for generations to come. And where it all might lead?