The Probe Has Landed! ESA Makes History, Lands Probe on Comet

The European Space Agency has just made a historic accomplishment! Ten years ago, it launched its Rosetta space probe with the goal of landing on a comet. Today, their goal became a reality!

The mission poster from the Rosetta mission, showing pictures of the spacecraft composited in with images taken of the comet.
The mission poster from the Rosetta mission, showing pictures of the spacecraft composited in with images taken of the comet.

The European Space Agency celebrated the cosmic achievement after sweating through a tense seven-hour countdown that began when the Philae lander dropped from the agency’s Rosetta space probe toward the comet as both hurtled through space at 41,000 mph (66,000 kph).

The agency then received a signal at 1603 GMT (11:03 a.m. EST) from the 100-kilogram (220-pound) Philae lander after it touched down on the icy surface of the comet named 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Philae had drifted down to the comet and latched on using harpoons and ice screws.

“We definitely confirm that the lander is on the surface,” said flight director Andrea Accomazzo.

While further checks are needed to ascertain the state of the lander, the fact that it is resting on the surface of the speeding comet is already a huge success. It marks the highlight of the decade-long Rosetta mission to study comets and learn more about the origins of these celestial bodies.

Congratulations to the ESA (who is pretty pleased with itself that it finally did something ahead of NASA). Of course, the first order of business for the Philae lander was to take a selfie with a remote camera.

Even Captain Kirk says this is a big deal.

I have always loved space (probably a side effect of all the science fiction I absorbed as a child). I can still remember the devastating impact of the Challenger explosion when I was in second grade, and the Columbia’s destruction in 2003. Between those events, and the more recent accidents in space travel technology development (which is currently being investigated as “human error“), it seems sometimes that we are more defined by our failures in attempting to reach space, than our actual achievements. This is a GIANT achievement. The comet, 67P, is only 2.5 miles wide and can travel up to speeds of 84,000 miles per hour. The Rosetta probe has been pacing the comet since August, just waiting for the right moment to deploy its lander, Philae. And it takes 28 minutes for a command sent from Earth to reach Rosetta. And while the probe has landed, it still has to stay put…

Both Rosetta and Philae have Twitter feeds, so people will be able to track the movements of this mission as it develops. Here is hoping that all is well and the ESA can bask in some rightly-deserved praise before they start the process of running their experiments.

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Ava Gardner