Philae has landed!

You may know I’m a nerd.  You might not but that doesn’t change the fact that weird sciencey things intrigue me.  Perhaps you’ve seen it in the news recently.  The European Space Agency (ESA) just landed a probe on a comet.  67p/churyumov-gerasimenko (a uniquely unmemorable name) looks slightly like a duck or perhaps a swan but either way its the crowning achievement of the ESA and they deserve all of the commendation they are getting (and more!).

philae landing

Philae’s “selfie” as it descends to 67p (about 3km away)

2 months ago Philae was a nobody.  11 months ago you might have started to hear “Rosetta” in the mainstream media as it awoke from a 3 year hibernation getting ready to make final maneuvers.  In August, Rosetta’s fame reached its peak and may even have become a household name when had finally reached its goal.  Rosetta’s 10 year journey was over and Philae was about to steal the spotlight!

Its crazy to think that 10 years ago I was scouring the internet from my dad’s computer.  The ESA announced a mission to send a probe to land on a comet.  The first of many hurdles was delayed by mother nature and the launch took place a few weeks behind schedule.  Every space mission is complex and with unique variables and thousands of chances for everything to go horribly wrong.  Even R&D training missions can be catastrophic (as we just learned with SpaceX’s August explosion & Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo’s tragic crash) so it made sense to make safety the number 1 priority.

The fact that Rosetta successfully reached and orbited 67p is a huge achievement  A milestone in space exploration that opened the door for an even crazier mission.  Philae’s landing!  Last week in anticipation of Philae’s landing attempt I showed my students this video.

The landing had practically infinite chances for failure and at one point the world stood in silence.  A tweet went out that Philae’s harpoons failed to deploy.  It was speculated that Philae bounced off the asteroid after being unable to latch on.  Hours of nervous waiting crawled by and mixed media reviews said that Philae landed while others reported solely on the harpoon malfunction when suddenly this picture began surfacing!

Philae's Touchdown!

Philae’s Touchdown!

Philae made it!  We may or may not find out the exact circumstances of the landing but tomorrow I’ll happily show them this picture and we’ll give a little cheer for the ESA’s success.  With any luck they’ll be as curious as me and start asking questions that I won’t know the answers to!  Things like “what will we find on 67p/churyumov-gerasimenko?” and “are there aliens there?”

Many space enthusiasts are hopeful for the prospect of the building blocks of life or some new element.  For me the exciting part is that we did it.  The bar has been set; the world knows that comets and potentially asteroids are within our grasp.  I can’t wait to see how the future unfolds and what we continue discover as my students grow into scientists and experts who answer new questions and seek out crazy new adventures!

 

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