The Beagle Project has been on a bit of a roll over the last nine days: first they finally achieve UK charitable status, then they're hob-nobbing it with tea and HobNobs™ at the House of Lords, and now they've entered into a 'trans-atmospheric' Space Act Agreement with Nasa. Yes, that Nasa; the ones who landed on the fucking moon. And get this: it was Nasa who approached them!
According to their press release [no longer available], scientists, teachers and students sailing aboard the rebuilt HMS Beagle will collaborate with astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) to investigate the biology of plankton blooms, coral reefs and other ocean surface and terrestrial ecosystems. Using satellite link-ups, students in classrooms and laboratories will be able to follow the voyage, and interact with scientists as they apply the tools and techniques of modern science in Darwin's footsteps ashore and at sea. From space, astronauts will use the ISS's high resolution imaging to photograph the Beagle and fix her position as she sails into plankton blooms and takes seawater samples for chemical and biological analysis. Samples will be analysed aboard by marine biologists and also processed and shipped to labs for DNA sequencing and comparison to libraries of known marine organisms using DNA barcoding and metagenomics.
If that alone doesn't justify the cost of the ISS, I don't know what does.
I can't wait for the day when the magnificent square-rigger pulls up at a Santiago Island dock, and they get on the blower to their friends in the ISS and utter the immortal words, Galápagos Base: the Beagle has landed.
How could they not do?