Rosetta Spacecraft Lands on Comet
Humanity has landed spacecraft on the Moon and Mars but until yesterday, we had not landed anything on a small moving object. In our continuing pursuit of knowledge from beyond this world, the European Space Agency completed the hard part of a 10-plus year mission to land a spacecraft on a comet.
At just past 11:00 AM EST on Wednesday, the Rosetta space craft’s Philae lander touched down on Comet 67P.
The Rosetta mission started with the probe’s launch in March 2004 and didn’t make contact with the comet until this August before landing three months later. The decent of the Philae took place yesterday over the course of seven hours and scientists had to wait 30 minutes for confirmation from the probe that had landed.
The biggest trick in landing on 67P was the size and speed of the comet that the ESA was trying to land Philae. The 4-km diameter of the comet sounds pretty big to us but when it’s a few hundred million kilometres from Earth, it gets close to finding a needle in a haystack. And 67P is also moving 41,000 MPH which means that Rosetta had to catch the come on the run.
And even then, the landing didn’t go off without a hitch. The Philae lander had issues with both a thruster on the top of the lander that was supposed to help the landing due to the comet’s low gravity and the harpoons that were designed to hook the lander into the comet. Despite these problems, the landing went relatively well and now Philae is on 67P.
The good news is that the scanning equipment onboard Philae is intact and working. It’ll be interesting to see what the ESA can find out from examining a comet. And maybe this success can restart the US space program since they’ve kinda given up on space.