As this blog entry goes out a spacecraft has reached a comet. That’s never been done before.
Rosetta launched in 2004 and will arrive at comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 6 August. It will be the first mission in history to rendezvous with a comet, escort it as it orbits the Sun, and deploy a lander to its surface. Rosetta is an ESA mission with contributions from its member states and NASA.
ESA is the European Space Agency. They’re running the show.
I have mixed emotions about this sort of project. We spent a boatload of money and untold brain power solving a problem through science, math and engineering. An incredible achievement.
But, aren’t there more pressing practical problems on Earth which would have benefited from this kind of massive effort?
Rosetta, still around 60 miles away from 67P, is transmitting incredibly detailed photos of the weirdly shaped comet. Some have compared the shape to a duck. Potato shaped objects are much more common.
Was it once two separate entities that somehow fused? Does it contain pristine samples from the dawn of the universe 13.77 billion years ago? There are sure to be surprises.
After orbiting this tiny space chunk (about 2 1/4 by 2 1/2 miles though quite irregular) for a while Rosetta will move to an orbit of 30 miles, then 15 miles. Finally, probably in November, a capsule will be deployed from Rosetta to the comet’s surface.
Is this money well spent? It’s certainly splashy science… amazing science. I wish there was a well defined practical payoff.