"It blows your brain. I remember when we went and asked for this stuff we just fell about laughing. We said: 'Well, let's try; let's see what happens. These engineers are smart'. And, boy, they're smart - they did it!"
Cambridge University's Gerry Gilmore says astronomers thought they were requesting the impossible when the spec was put forward in the early 1990s for a space mission to make a far-reaching census of the Milky Way.
All passenger ships and merchant vessels above gross 300t must now carry and use the Automatic Identification System (AIS).
It is a powerful tool. AIS broadcasts not just position, course, and speed, but also information about a ship's type, draught, cargo - even its eventual destination. Originally intended as a near-shore safety system, new satellite-borne receivers capable of picking up the signals mean AIS now operates across the globe.
"If it happens, it happens quite soon," says Luca Parmitano. "There may be a motion you do with your head, and before you know it you are barfing in your barf bag. But to be honest, I would be very surprised if it happened to me." Let's hope.
The Sicilian is about to fulfil a dream by flying on a Russian Soyuz vehicle to the International Space Station on Tuesday.
Things have been a bit quiet on Mars of late. During most of April, Nasa's Curiosity rover enjoyed some R&R while the Red Planet moved behind the Sun as viewed from Earth.
This conjunction, as it is known, plays havoc with communications and the robot was forced to park up while the celestial mechanics took their course. But the ability to send commands has now been restored, and scientists have a heavy schedule of tasks they want the rover to work through.
"I'm hoping there's something surprising there for them. If they just say, 'well, other people were right' - that's not exciting; the last decimal places are never very interesting. What we want is some new phenomenon."
American Nobel Laureate John Mather believes the bar has been set very high for the European Space Agency's (Esa) Planck surveyor.
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