New Norcia tracking station hosts Benedictine visit
A group of monks and staff from the New Norcia Benedictine Community visited ESA's deep space station near their abbey in Western Australia on 4 December. The station and the Community have a unique relationship, helping to boost the educational and outreach activities of both.
In 2002, ESA completed construction of its first 35 m-diameter deep space station, 10 km south of the town of New Norcia. It operates as part of the Agency's ESTRACK network and is controlled from ESOC, the European Space Operations Centre, Darmstadt, Germany. The station regularly sends commands and receives data from missions like Mars Express, Venus Express and Rosetta.
New Norcia has also been home to a community of Benedictine Monks ever since the first Spanish missionaries established the town in 1847.
1500-year-old monastic traditions
While maintaining true to its 1500-year-old monastic traditions, the New Norcia Benedictine Community has also become a unique tourist destination. Visitors can meet the monks, tour the Community’s facilities – including a museum and art gallery, education centre and hotel – join the monks for their six-times-daily prayers in the monastery chapel, and purchase locally produced goods, including New Norcia olive oil, wine and Abbey Ale and baked goods from its wood-fired oven.
Whilst the Community supports itself through these activities and its farming operations and investments, it relies heavily on funding from a variety of sources including numerous generous benefactors to maintain the heritage buildings and collections, including a magnificent library and archive, which help make this monastic town unique.
Outreach supporting space
In 1996, the Community established the New Norcia Education Centre to help share New Norcia's unique monastic, European and Aboriginal heritage.
Today, the Education Centre offers a range of programmes for students and adult groups. More than 5000 primary and secondary students and staff from Catholic, independent and state schools come to New Norcia each year for their annual music and art camps, retreats or to take part in an education programme.
As the New Norcia station is not generally accessible to the public, ESA funded the creation of an Interpretive Room at the New Norcia Education Centre.
This room allows visiting groups to experience deep-space missions first-hand and includes scale models of the Ariane 5 launcher, the Rosetta comet-chaser and Mars Express; interpretive panels with images and data; and large-screen DVD presentations on the station and ESA missions. New Norcia's ESA Room is used by more than 1500 students annually.
The station’s location near the Benedictine Community builds a bridge between the 160-year-old traditions of the monastery and the high-tech world of spaceflight.
On 4 December, a group of monks toured the site and observed the extensive maintenance and upgrade activities taking place.
Along with the New Norcia Education Officer, Visitor Services Manager and Group Accommodation Manager, the visitors included Father John Herbert, seventh Abbot of New Norcia, and the group was hosted by the ESA team now working temporarily on site.
Telephone interview with Father John Herbert, describing the unique relations between space and monastic life at New Norcia.
(click here to download mp3 if player is not visible above)