Gaelic banned by NASA
Space pupils censored

By MIKE MERRITT*

(21 March 2004) -- THERE'S no place for Gaelic in outer space after NASA slapped a ban on the Scots native tongue.

Despite being part of a historic space link-up with British astronaut Michael Foale last week, schoolchildren were left disappointed when he was forbidden from taking any questions in Gaelic.

During a nine-minute radio conversation using the fax line at Back School on the Isle of Lewis, Mr Foale, commander of the International Space Station, answered 19 questions from pupils.

But four questions were censored because they were in Gaelic despite last-minute pleas to NASA and its go-between, the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (Aris).

Both ruled that Mr Foale would only take the questions in English even though the astronaut was willing to learn the replies in advance and have the first Gaelic chat in orbit.

Yesterday, headmaster John Maclean said: 'I am very disappointed. It would have helped highlight that Gaelic needs all the help it can get.

'Michael was happy to do it and we even submitted four questions with the English translation underneath.

'We even made a last ditch attempt to get the decision overturned but Aris said the only language to be used was English.'

More than 70 of Back School's 186 pupils are taught entirely in Gaelic, which is on the verge of extinction.

Questions on their space list included 'Ma bhios sibh tinn, de bhios sibh a' deanamh?' (What do you do if you are ill?) and 'Ciamar a gheibh sibh air ais gu talamh sabhailte?' (How will you get back to Earth safely?).

Mr Maclean was backed by Carlos Eavis, of the Radio Society of Great Britain, which helped set-up the space link.

Mr Eavis said: 'It would been fantastic for the children.

'We have had a fantastic privilege in being picked to have this conversation through space.

'But it would have put an extra gloss on the occasion to get Gaelic into space as well.'

* From the Sunday Mail



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