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Ladies and Gentlemen, it's our very great pleasure to welcome you all here tonight to Milton Keynes, and indeed to the Open University, to the 2007 Annual Lecture – our first ever Broadband lecture. We are here to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the successful launch of the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1 – no minor event. Indeed, in the words of NASA, with the launch of Sputnik 1 the Space Age had been born and the world would be different ever after. In the intervening fifty years the field of planetary science and astronomy has progressed to such an extent that we are now able to land a space probe on Titan, more than a billion miles from Earth and provide detailed analyses of its surface composition and temperature.

Tonight, Professor of Space Science, John Zarnecki, will give a lecture entitled, Fingers Crossed: Fifty Years of Space Exploration. Anyone who works in the field of space exploration is entitled to cross their fingers as they watch their experiments. The results, I would remind you, are of years of meticulous planning and design, placed on the end of a rocket and blasted into the most hostile environment that we know. It is on such endeavours that our Speaker tonight has spent his professional life. The work of his Open University Team has attracted critical acclaim from around the world. The triumph of landing a space probe on Titan two years ago, for instance, prompted the Minister for Science to hold it up as a glowing example of British Science ingenuity at its best. It also prompted John Zarnecki to ponder with us that he and his team may be playing a part in saving the human race. In a billion years, when the sun becomes a red giant, it will expand massively, he said,

"The temperature on Earth will rise; the Oceans will boil; Life on Earth will be wiped out. But on Titan, towards the end of the Solar System, things will be better. The temperature will rise. Some of the ice will melt. Maybe it will become an Eden and the human race can flourish there.”

Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, fingers crossed. Allow me to introduce John Zarnecki.

Next: Yuri and me