The 1986 Giotto Encounter Contest for Children

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This contest was proposed by Prof. Roger-Maurice Bonnet, the ESA Director of the Scientific Programme, back in 1986, at the occasion of the encounter of the ESA GIOTTO probe with Halley’s comet, which occurred in the night of 13-14 March 1986.

The contest was to ask children aged no more than 10 years old from all ESA member states (numbering 11 at that time, half of today’s number) to prepare and send to ESA a drawing or a painting illustrating what in their mind this encounter did inspire. The reason for limiting the age was the following.

Halley’s comet also called 1P/Halley is one of the most famous comets in history, and its approaching the Sun every 75-76 years is celebrated all around the world as a very visible and festive event as was the case in 1910 and then in 1986. Its next closest approach to the Sun (called also Perihelion) will occur in 2061 when children who were 10 years old in 1986 would be in their mid eighties and most likely still alive and strong. There will undoubtedly be a very big celebration at this next perihelion and most likely also several new space missions in orbit to watch the comet 75 years after Giotto. If at that time ESA is still operating as the European Space Agency, it will certainly celebrate the event.

Hence, the idea of the contest was to invite at ESA the – still-alive – children (then in their 80’s) and celebrate the event with each of them, through interviews and photos in front of the paintings they had sent to ESA 75 years before.

ESA received 25 paintings and drawings in May 1986 and on 15th June all the participants together with their parents were welcomed at ESA Head Quarters in Paris by the Director General Prof. Reimar Lüst and the Director of the Scientific Program Prof. Roger-Maurice Bonnet who acknowledged their artistic creations and presented them a diploma and a small model of the Giotto spacecraft. At the end of the ceremony they both wished all of them long-life and invited them to ESA again in 2061. They then said good-bye to each and apologized for, in whole likelihood, not being present at that time to congratulate them a second time.