ESA Landed a Robot on a Comet Today!
History has been made! At 11:03 a.m. EST / 16:03 UTC today, Nov. 12 2014, during an event telecast live online, ESA received confirmation from its Philae lander that it successfully touched down and attached to the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, currently 509.5 million km (316 million miles) from Earth. It is the first time a human-made spacecraft has ever soft-landed on a comet… a truly momentous accomplishment! This is a real testament to the capability of teams of people across the world working together to achieve something amazing for the sake of science and knowledge. Go Philae! Congratulations ESA!
“How audacious! How exciting! How unbelievable to be able to land on a comet!” said Dr. Jim Green, NASA’s Planetary Science Director on location at ESA Operations Center in Germany during the landing event.
UPDATE: The image above is a mosaic of two images taken by one of Philae’s three CIVA (Comet Infrared and Visible Analyzer) cameras from its final landing position. Philae’s “foot” can be seen in the lower foreground. That’s basically like you standing on the comet and looking down at your feet!
Unfortunately the news is not all good… read more below.
At the moment, data shows that Philae’s harpoons did not fire as expected and so it may not be as firmly attached as mission engineers want it to be, even though its foot-mounted screws have dug in. How to remedy that is yet to be determined. In fact, Philae may even have bounced upon impact, making it a “double landing!” UPDATE: As it turns out Philae bounced twice – with considerable vertical distance traveled during each bound, up to 1 km high. Philae’s final position, somewhere in the region shown below, has it tilted 30 degrees on only two of its three legs and in partial illumination. This non-optimal situation will affect its power and communication abilities, but it appears to be operating well at the moment.
Stay tuned for more images and news to come as they are released.
(Thanks to The Planetary Society’s Emily Lakdawalla for feeding the news from the ESA conference in Germany.)
Added 11/14: A full update of the current status of Philae can be found here.