Rosetta metalhead Matt picks up Golden Gods award

The European Rosetta mission team is celebrating this week after the spacecraft’s little companion lander Philae called home at last after a seven month “sleep” on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. You can read about that drama in my report for Sen.com.

Matt and Brian
Matt Taylor, right, with Brian May at the awards ceremony. Image credit: YouTube

But the mission’s chief scientist Dr Matt Taylor enjoyed a second celebration a day after the news was announced, when he picked up a prize normally reserved for stars involved with a different kind of rock.

Heavily tattooed Matt, who is a huge heavy metal fan himself, picked up the Spirit award at the Metal Hammer Golden Gods event at London’s IndigO2 arena. The award was presented by another rock star famed for his interest in astronomy and space, Dr Brian May of Queen.

Brian told the crowd: I’m here for a very special reason. And that’s to present the Spirit of Hammer award to soemone that you might not expect, and I want to tell you why this guy is, in our opinion, worth of this incredible award. He is truly a god of heavy metal but in a very different way. He is called Dr Matt Taylor and this man has done something extraordinary that has never in the history of Man been done before.

“He and his team hurled a large piece of metal and silicon 300 million miles into space and landed a small pod on a comet. It’s something so incredibly difficult and unusual. Ten years ago they launched this thing…they didn’t even speak to it because it had to rest and then they just hoped that when it switched itself on it would be in the right place. It was in the right place.

“Now you probably think this guy is a very important American; he’s not, he is British, he was born here just a few yards from here in fact. He spent most of his youth in the East End, he went to Liverpool University to get his physics degree, and he went to Imperial College (London) to get his doctorate.

“In case you don’t know, the Rosetta mission is something that has never been done before. Last November it caught up with the comet it had been pursuing for ten years. This guy, Dr Matt Taylor, was in control of the whole thing.

Matt Taylor
Matt Taylor raises his arms to acknowledge the applause at the award show. Image credit: YouTube

“He’s a very unusual guy. I’ve been talking to a lot of people who work for him and they say he’s a very nice guy. He’s also a guy who does not take any shit, and that’s an essential quality. He’s also a guy who has more tattoos than the whole of us lot put together, and he’s the guy who’s not afraid to show them.

“He’s also one of the few guys who has tattoos, on one part of his body of the Dogs of War, and on another part of his body he has Albert Einstein. There aren’t many people with that distinction—it’s unusual.

“I just want to say it’s my honour to present him with this award, but there’s a postscript. Let me tell you this. Rosetta arrived and rendezvoused with the comet, a little piece of stuff detached itself and landed on the comet. It bounced a couple of times, but then it transmitted back the first pictures ever sent from the surface of a comet. It then unfortunately went to sleep because it landed in some shadow and so solar power couldn’t recharge its batteries.

“The timing of this is incredible because just yesterday the damn thing woke up! So this little thing called Philae is about to transmit more messages back to Earth, and its incredible and makes it very happy for me.

“Ladies and gentlement, it gives me great pleasure and pride to bestow the equivalent of a heavy metal knighthood, the Spirit of the Hammer of the Golden Gods on Dr Matt Taylor.”

After Matt came on with his arms raised, like a rock star, to chants of “Taylor, Taylor” from the audience, he told them: “I’m honoured to receive this. Other people who have received this are people like Brian Blessed and he would say: ‘Philae’s alive!’

“You know what? I’m like you, all of you, I’m a metal’ead. And you can all land something on a comet. That’s all I wanna say to you guys. Never stop dreaming. It doesn’t matter what you look like, just keep on doing sh*t, do what you want to do, keep dreaming, it’ll happen. And stay metal!”

You can watch the section with Brian May and Matt Taylor below, from about 17 minutes in. (The whole video contains some strong language.)


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By Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland has been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. He writes regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy, plus he has authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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