Rosetta space probe and the Philae lander
Last year, after traveling for more than ten years, the European Space Agency’s Rosetta space probe made contact with comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Rosetta reached the comet on August 6, 2014, becoming the first spacecraft to orbit a comet. Three months later, on November 12, 2014, the ESA launched the Philae lander to the surface, and thus becoming the first ever human spacecraft to land on the surface of a comet. Comet 67P travels at 84,000 mph and is roughly 2.5 miles in diameter in either direction. The successful orbit of the Rosetta probe and landing of the Philae spacecraft are two remarkable feats of engineering that should be applauded and that will certainly go down in the history books of space exploration.
However, for many, the extraordinary mission was seen as a failure when Rosetta’s Philae lander bounced twice during the spacecraft’s approach to the comet’s surface and failed to touch down at the intended location. Although Philae landed on its side undamaged, it rested at the base of a vast cliff and cut off from the light of the sun, the lander’s singular power source. After just a few days of communication with ESA, the Philae lander ran out of battery power and has been silent ever since.
Needless to say, this was a major setback for man’s first soft landing on the face of a comet, but there is still hope that the lander will come back on line when comet 67P approaches the sun later this year.
Since then, scientists at ESA have devoted their attention to the Rosetta Space probe as it orbits the comet in its current orbit of our sun. On Saturday, Rosetta completed a close fly-by of the comet’s surface. Approaching 3.7 miles from the surface, Rosetta was able to take some amazing photos of the harsh wasteland that is comet 67P.
It remains to be seen if the Philae lander was a total loss. There is always a chance that comet 67P will turn and face the sun long enough to power the solar cells. With a little luck, much can still be discovered by the now slumbering spacecraft. Until then, there is much to be learned from these awesome photos taken by the space probe. As Rosetta continues to orbit the comet, taking samples of the atmosphere and closely observing the eerie, alien surface, it is hard to see this mission as a failure. The ESA’s Rosetta space probe has paved the way for similar missions in the future. Some day, mankind will put a human on one of the many comets in our solar system. Looking at these photos, the idea is awe-inspiring, frightening and inevitable.