The European Space Agency succeeded in putting a spacecraft on the surface of a comet yesterday! This is a wonderful achievement for mankind! The robotic probe, Philae, reached 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (what a name?!) on the back of the Rosetta satellite on a 10-year, 6.4 billion-km journey. The descent to the surface took approximately 7 hours, and it wasn’t without its fair share of suspense. The 2 harpoons which were meant to stabilize the probe failed to launch, and the spacecraft actually bounced a few times on the surface before reaching its final resting place.
The main problem with the current position is that the lander is suffering from a lack of sunlight to power all of its tools. Philae is only receiving about 1.5 hours of illumination during every 12-hour rotation of the comet (much less than the agency had hoped for). The Europeans would love to power up Philae’s on-board drill and analyze the comet’s composition, but at the moment, they are worried that the drill’s rotational forces will destablize the probe and send it off into space. Regardless of future plans, this is already a tremendous achievement. Any time you accomplish something that has never happened in the history of humanity, I’d say it was success!
Why did they attempt this mission?
Many scientists believe that comets brought organic molecules to Earth, helping give rise to our oceans and atmosphere, and maybe even the seeds of life. So, learning more about comets’ materials in space could help us discover how life began at home.
A little known fact is that here at RobotSpaceBrain, we actually launched a manned-mission to 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko around the same time, and we are HAPPY TO REPORT, THE MISSION WAS A RESOUNDING SUCCESS! We even stuck the landing:
Needless to say, this is one of those really exciting moments in space exploration!