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Friday, 7 November 2014

The Rosetta Mission

In just 5 short days, humanity will attempt to land on a comet for the first time in history! The mission? Rosetta. The date? November 12th, 2014. In light of this upcoming event, I have written a little here on the mission and its importance.

What is it?

The Rosetta spacecraft was built and launched by the European Space Agency to study the comet  67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. This comet, roughly 4 kilometres wide, is moving with a speed of roughly 120 000 km/hour around the Sun, approximately 6.55 billion kilometres away from the Earth.

Rosetta was launched in 2004, and had a long way to go to catch up with the comet. The spacecraft needed to greatly increase its speed but the engineers designing it could not simply put more fuel in it, there are mass and size limits after all. In order to catch up with 67P, the Rosetta spacecraft has done three fly-bys of the Earth, one of Mars, and flown by two different asteroids. It entered deep-space hibernation in 2011, and woke up in January of 2014. Rendezvousing with the comet in August, it has been orbiting ever since, studying the comet, getting ready to drop its lander, Philae onto the surface.

Why is it important?

As I mentioned above, this will be the first successful landing on a comet. This is a point in history, where our capabilities will be tested, measured, and remembered. A lot of technical challenges had to be addressed and overcome in order to make this happen, and the scientists, engineers, everyone who worked on it, had to predict the outcome and account for these challenges more than a decade in advance.

Studying the comet is also extremely important. Comets and asteroids are relatively untouched bodies flying around in space. While Earth undergoes constant change due to weather, tectonic activity, and human infrastructure, asteroids and comets are pretty much the same as when the solar system formed. Studying them is like looking into the past. Scientists are better able to understand how the solar system formed, and, most importantly and pertaining to comets, where the water we know and love came from.

Maybe you're less concerned about science, maybe these space missions seem literally too far removed from your life here and you keep wondering why they're important. 

A fair point, however missions like these employ so many people, and help promote business and technological development. These missions help develop cheaper and more reliable satellite production which is important because satellites give us so much. Global positioning, weather forecasting, broadcasting TV, phone, and internet services, all made much more available thanks to satellites, and these satellites grow and develop as new skills and techniques are developed through space missions.

There are many more reasons why these missions are important, but I trust that you'll find out many on your own.

How to become involved?

At this point, the spacecraft is nearing the point where it will drop its lander, Philae. The best way to get involved at this point is to try to take some time on Wednesday, November 12th, to watch some of the mission live. You may do so here!

The landing of Philae on comet 67P is scheduled to be sometime around 16:00 UTC (17:00 CET or 11:00 EST). 

You may find more information at the following websites:
Rosetta launch point  (Here, you can see a cool 3D visualization of where Rosetta is right now!)
ESA Rosetta Mission page
Twitter page
Facebook page

A cute animation of the mission can be found here

And a cool video featuring Aiden Gillen from Game of Thrones can be found here!

Thanks for reading!

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