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Galileo Rocks, But...

This week the European Union launched Giove A, the first satellite in its Galileo space-based navigation project -- the civilian-controlled counterpart to the Pentagon's Global Positioning Service. Giove A went up from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan (a historical irony, since Baikonur was the test launchpad for Soviet missiles that were once aimed at Paris and Brussels).

On one hand, I think it's great that they've developed their own version of GPS -- You go, Euros! Galileo will be more precise than GPS (at one meter resolution compared to five), and it will not be in the hands of Donald Rumsfeld and his cronies. "If the Americans want to scramble GPS, they can do it whenever they want, and everyone would suffer from these decisions," said ESA spokesperson Franco Bonacina after the launch.

OK, sure. But still, isn't this kind of reinventing the compass? I mean, the Galileo system will not even be ready for final testing until 2008, and it will cost European taxpayers a billion euros between now and 2013. I'm not sure the world really needs another satellite-based positioning system -- couldn't they spend those billion euros on something more immediately useful, like decent French pop music?

The whole thing sounds like a job-creation boondoggle -- Galileo is expected to create 150,000 jobs in Europe alone.

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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