Inside:  November, 2014, the space probe Philae became the first Earth craft to land on a comet. Philae was designed to collect information about our solar system. This post contains affiliate links.  If you click, I may make some coffee money at no cost to you.

Photo: By European Space Agency (Rosetta and Philae at comet) [CC BY-SA 3.0-igo], via Wikimedia Commons


I watched the movie Armageddon quite a few years ago now.  Ben Affleck was in his prime and Bruce Willis was at his surly best as a deep-core driller.  Willis and his crew including Affleck are recruited by NASA to land on an asteroid on course to crash-land on earth obliterating humanity.  Sound familiar….at all?  

“Science fiction is becoming scientific reality today, Hollywood is good but Rosetta is better.” — agency engineer for the European Space Agency

In order to manage this feat, they must land a craft on the asteroid. Sound familiar yet???  This movie was released 16 years ago and it was only a few days ago that reality mirrored Hollywood and science was able to land a craft on a comet (similar to an asteroid 😀 ) Earlier this week, the robot probe Philae, became the first spacecraft to land on a comet – Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Philae landed on the comet seven hours after it separated from its mothercraft Rosetta.

 Some nifty facts about this space mission:

  • Rosetta was launched ten years ago.

    Aristotle’s opinion… that comets were nothing else than sublunary vapors or airy meteors… prevailed so far amongst the Greeks, that this sublimest part of astronomy lay altogether neglected; since none could think it worthwhile to observe, and to give an account of the wandering and uncertain paths of vapours floating in the Ether.
    — Edmond Halley, Attributed.

  • It traveled about 3.7 billion miles to reach the comet.
  • The mother ship, Rosetta, is named after the Egyptian stone engraved in three languages.
  • Philae gets its name from the island of Philae in Lake Nasser, Egypt.

Why would anyone land a craft on a comet?

Rosetta and Philae are trying to accumulate information about some of the bigger cosmic questions.

  • What was the Solar System like in its infancy?
  • How did our solar system evolve?
  • Did comets influence its evolution and if they did what role did they play our solar system’s evolution?
  • What makes a comet tick?

    Captain Kirk

    The Literary Omnivore, CC BY-ND 2.0, via Comfight

All space missions have a primary mandate.  Captain Kirk’s was to explore all strange new worlds and to seek out new life.  Philae’s is no less daunting considering our technology to date.

Philae will give a full panoramic 3-D view of its landing site, a detailed analysis of the comet’s surface, including mechanical and electrical characteristics and using a drill will collect core samples where they will be analysed on board the space craft.

With this marvelous accomplishment can we now rest assured that if a comet decides to make a bee-line for planet earth we will be able to send a handsome group of blue-collar drillers to save our collective butts.  I feel hopeful.  What about you?

Do you find the idea of space exploration and travel exciting?  Check out Great Courses Plus and search this title: Probing the Cosmos from Space.  Learn all about NASA’s space exploration strategy.

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