ESA took a big decision 10 years ago, and decided to land on a comet. It sounded risky, and possibility foolish, but space agencies are supposed to push the boundaries. Now, 10 years later, that risk is paying off. In a first for space history, a spacecraft has manoeuvred alongside a speeding body to begin mapping its surface in detail.
As reported on BBC.
“The spacecraft fired its thrusters for six and a half minutes to finally catch up with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. “We’re at the comet!” said Sylvain Lodiot of the European Space Agency (Esa) operations centre in Germany. “After 10 years, five months and four days travelling towards our destination, looping around the Sun five times and clocking up 6.4 billion km, we are delighted to announce finally ‘we are here’,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain, director general of Esa. In a series of fly-pasts, the probe used the gravity of the Earth and Mars to increase its speed during the 6 billion km chase. You could almost feel the sense of relief in the corridors that, after managing a 10-year trek through space with extraordinary accuracy, and after investing more than one billion euros, all has gone so well. The signal took nearly 23 minutes to reach us and, when it came, it was a dip in a line on a graph. But this showed that the final burn to reach the comet had finished and this key moment was the trigger for a wave of pride rather than jubilation. Getting a spacecraft to match the speed of a comet and effectively ride alongside it is a landmark in space exploration.
The real hard work starts now. The landing is up next.