It seems as though it was only yesterday when in the Spring of '96 we decided to organize the Astronomy On-Line project as part of the 4th European Week for Scientific and Technological Culture! Yet, as all things, even the World's Biggest Astronomy Event on the Internet will have to come to a close. An inevitable thing which does not really have to be so.
The AOL International Steering Committee has already proposed its continuation. We have not yet decided the details as to where it will physically be situated, nor how we may augment the various features it already has, nor what will be the arrangements for its day-to-day operation, nor which way the various groups that already have registered to participate or other groups which would like to start participating may do so. As you see we have not yet decided on many very important issues. But the most important decision of all has already been taken: I am happy to announce that the Executive Council of the European Association for Astronomy Education has already decided that Astronomy On-Line will be a permanent feature of the World Wide Web!
Therefore this is an end, as well as a beginning! An end of the first chapter of a really wonderful program which brought together over 5,000 students, educators and professional astronomers in 31 countries throughout Europe and some important representatives from the other Continents. A first chapter which would not have been possible if we did not have the help and cooperation of many people and organizations. Therefore in these my closing remarks for this first chapter and on behalf of all the members of the Executive Council of the European Association for Astronomy Education I would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to:
1. The Directorate General XII of the European Union's Commission for giving us the opportunity to include the Astronomy On-Line project as part of the 4th European Week for Scientific and Technological Culture. Its financial support afforded us the opportunity to better plan the various aspects of the project. But in addition I would also like to mention here with our sincere thanks the special attention Astronomy On-Line received from Monsieur Michel Andre of DG XII who oversees the organization of EWSTC's projects. His suggestions and comments throughout the project's preparation stages were most elaborate and very well taken helping us in the process to make Astronomy On-Line a better overall project.
2. Special Thanks go also to the European Southern Observatory and its staff of professional astronomers and computer experts who gave us numerous ways to be thankful. Their professional way of doing things, the efficiency with which they operated and helped us throughout the project, as well as the financial support which they provided to us are just a few of the thousands of reasons that ESO will always have a special place in our heart.
3. The same feelings of appreciation go also to the various Astronomical Observatories and their professional staff for providing us their fine equipment and the many hours of their staff's time in order to enhance the real-time astronomical-educational experience of thousands of students (many of whom may at some time in the future and in one way or another be our professional colleagues).
4. Many thanks go also to the members of the National Steering Committees in the 31 participating European countries. The effort and time they devoted to the organization of this project went in many instances far above and beyond the requirements we stated that were needed when we made our original request to them. Their help was without question the main reason of Astronomy On-Line's success.
5. Sincere thanks are also due to the various sponsoring organizations which embraced the efforts of many of the groups participating in the project. Their help in many instances gave to the groups they sponsored the opportunity to enter the Wide Wonderful World of the Internet for the first time thus opening to them new ways to expand their knowledge and learning experiences.
6. The effective reporting of the various events by the various European Mass Media (print and electronic) should also be mentioned here with appreciation because thanks to their features which publicized the project widely Astronomy On-Line was made known to many of the school groups that eventually participated in it.
7. There would be no project at all to speak of if we did not have the support of the over 700 participating groups. To them goes a special THANK YOU for showing to us the wide interest in Astronomy that exists throughout Europe although up to now we did not really have a way of gauging its extent.
8. Last, but certainly not least, I have left the members of the Astronomy On-Line International Steering Committee (ISC). Their dedication (in some instances the word devotion may be more appropriate), their efforts and educational and astronomical expertise made this a project that the European Association for Astronomy Education will be proud of for many years to come and one which will be very hard to top.
These closing remarks would nevertheless be incomplete if I wouldn't have singled out five special individuals who have been the heart of the project from its beginning: the members of the ESO Education and Public Relations Department, Elisabeth Voelk and Claus Madsen, the ESO computer wizard Michael Naumann, as well as the two Co-Chairmen of the ISC, Fernand Wagner (EAAE) and Richard West (ESO). No words may adequately express my sincere gratitude for the hundreds of hours these individuals devoted to the project's development and success. Thank you for your work, for your expertise, and most of all for being there!
Keep on surfing...and looking UP!