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European Space Agency Lands Rosetta Probe On Comet

The European Space Agency’s ambitious attempt to land a spacecraft on the surface of a comet was successful when a signal arrived back at the mission control center in Darmstadt, Germany on Wednesday.

The box-shaped probe Philae touched down on schedule at about 8 am PST after a seven-hour descent from the spacecraft Rosetta nearly 300 million miles from Earth. The comet, about 2.5 miles wide, travels at speeds of up to 84,000 miles per hour, Fox News reported.

[quote text_size=”small” author=”– Philae Twitter feed”]

Finally! I’m stretching my legs after more than 10 years. Landing gears deployed!


Scientists believe studying comets may offer insight into the formation of the earth, as they are believed to have brought much of the water in our oceans. Comets are made of dust, ice and complex molecules and are remnants of the creation of our 4.6 billion-year-old solar system.

On Wednesday, the ESA released the first image of the Philae lander separating from the Rosetta ship.

Philae and its 10 instruments are now starting 64 hours of scientific operations before the batteries die, the New York Times reported. Solar panels will then recharge the batteries for intermittent operations over the next few months.

The operation was a success despite several problems, including a failure of a thruster that was supposed to fire right after touchdown to press the lander against the surface of the comet. A pin was supposed to break a wax seal on the probe’s gas tank, but this was not successful. Philae relied on ice screws on its legs and harpoons to keep it attached to the comet.

Indications were that the spacecraft touched down nearly perfectly but had an unexpected bounce. “Today we didn’t just land once; we maybe even landed twice,” said Stephan Ulamec, head of the lander operation.

Rosetta reached comet 67P, a rock discovered in 1969, after traveling for 10 years, 5 months, 4 days. The mission cost was nearly $1.8 billion, the Review Journal reported.

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