Rosetta Sounds Like A Movie Plot, But This Is Real

Where is Rosetta

Five hundred million kilometers from Earth a comet is streaking toward the Sun. No worries. Not a threat to us.

Earthlings, being curious people, thought we’d send a mission to this comet to find out what it’s made of. Theoretically, comets are a direct link to the universe just after the Big Bang.

Rosetta_mission_selfie_at_16_kmCatching a comet is no easy feat. Its speed is greatly affected by proximity to the Sun–so, constantly changing. Our comet is doing around 38,000 mph today. The instant we arrive we need to be doing exactly the same speed as the comet. Seriously, at that instant exactly.

To get to Comet 67P/CG “Rosetta” will travel over 6,500,000,000 kilometers. That’s on purpose. By swinging through the Earth’s gravitational field a few times engineers were able to stretch precious fuel.

Rosetta is now orbiting Comet 67P/CG at around 10 miles, a little higher than commercial jets fly.

Getting to the comet wasn’t enough. How about we land on it? It’s the 21st Century equivalent of climbing from your horse onto an out-of-control stagecoach!

Rosetta_OSIRIS_NAC_comet_67P_20140803_1The comet is weirdly shaped, moving and spinning. It’s sublimating ice, so we see gas jets spewing out. More than likely the comet’s path from moment-to-moment is irregular. There is nearly zero gravity to prevent a landing spacecraft from just bouncing right off.

November 12 a small instrument package will be jettisoned from Rosetta. Rockets pushing toward the surface will hold it in place as harpoons try to get a grip. “Philae” will set up shop for scientific experiments and transmit results to Rosetta which will relay it back to Earth.

I have no doubt this will work.

What NASA and the European Space Agency have done here is nothing short of incredible. It’s much more than most people imagine can be done today. I wish this kind of engineering heft was also available for some of the Earth’s seemingly insurmountable problems.

Rosetta Reaches The Comet

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?


Comet_on_3_August_2014_fullwidth (1)

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.

Incredible Engineering: Rosetta Wakes Up

Comet_approach_node_full_imageNothing is impossible. I say that without fear of contradiction because of what the European Space Agency and NASA have been doing for the last decade. It’s the Rosetta mission.

Rosetta’s job is to monitor a comet, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, by placing an orbiter around it and a lander on it! It will do this as the comet races toward the inner Solar System.

Rosetta_trajectory_English[1]As you might imagine, catching a comet isn’t easy. Rosetta was launched in 2004 and has made three Earth passes, plus one trip around Mars, all to gain speed and set-up its rendezvous.

To conserve power while coasting through space, Rosetta’s been ‘sleeping.’ Here’s how they list it on the mission timeline.

July 2011 Aphelion/Enter Hibernation

Rosetta_approaching_its_ultimate_destination_Comet_67P_Churyumov-Gerasimenko_node_full_imageAphelion means its furthest point from the Sun. Hibernation… you get that.

Today Rosetta gets its wake-up call! It needs to start processing data. It needs to prepare for its May meet-up with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

This is another unbelievably complex and intricate engineering challenge that should be impossible. What could possibly be more difficult than this?

Should I Care About Letterman? I Do

It was obvious the audience was also caught off guard. They didn’t seem to get the drift of what he was saying.

“I’m glad you folks are here tonight, and I’m glad you folks are in such a pleasant mood, because I have a story I’d like to tell you and the home viewers as well.” – David Letterman

letterman-ticket.jpgI rushed home and quickly turned on the TV. I wanted to watch David Letterman’s mea culpa. I am not proud this was must see TV.

A few quick notes. The Letterman extortion story exploded because of the Internet and social media. It wasn’t long after Letterman’s audience exited the Ed Sullivan Theater that the twittering began. Though Letterman was mum the accused perp’s name surfaced by 11:00p and his CBS News affiliation a few minutes later.

Social media led mainstream media by a mile. The Washington Post/CNN’s Howard Kurtz is a perfect example of the new pecking order.

“Weird: I tweeted, Anderson Cooper’s person saw it, seconds later I’m phoning in to CNN on the Letterman affair(s). Talk about Twitter power” – Howard Kurtz via Twitter

I’m a big Letterman fan and have been for nearly 30 years. I watched his confession tonight–that’s what it was.

I knew Dave was a flawed man, but this wasn’t a flaw I’d expected. My assumption was his shortcomings were beyond his control. This decidedly is not.

It was obvious the audience was caught off guard. There was no context so they originally felt Dave was setting up some bit. They didn’t get the drift of what he was saying. More than once there was awkward silence as they grasped to understand what was unfolding. They would have benefited by being pre-tweeted.

I wish I knew if tonight’s revelations would affect my ongoing viewing or even my opinion of Letterman in general. Though disappointing, these affairs of his aren’t at the Polanski level nor what suspect was Michael Jackson’s dysfunctional worst. I still enjoy Woody Allen movies and he’s been pretty skeevy as an adult.

I am conflicted. My opinion will certainly be swayed by the opinions of others.

Why should I care anyway? But I do.

Super Bowl Sunday With The Foxes

I watched until it looked like Pittsburgh had put it away, then fell asleep. I half heard the 100 yard runback with my eyes closed and head on a pillow on the sofa.

Super Bowl Sunday–I never got out of my pajamas. Didn’t shower until after 10p.

madeline.jpgWe started the day watching the entire “Puppy Bowl V.” OK, I didn’t totally dedicate myself to PB-V but I was in the room. I love Harry Kalas’ voice, but he really isn’t a great v/o reader.

I want the Beagle with lighter brown markings as a family member–Madeline.

We were watching NBC when Matt Lauer interviewed President Obama. Audio problems! Wow. That never used to happen on the network. I’m curious if this was staffed and set-up the same as it would have been 8-years ago?

Was President Obama too casual? No tie. Is it OK for the president to make Inspector Gadget references? Is it OK for a president to be impolitic and take sides in a football game, as he did?

He seemed like the nicest, most engaging and charming president of my lifetime. He makes Bill Clinton seem like Grover Cleveland.

I was uncomfortable President Obama was so relaxed and casual. It’s my problem I suppose. Just not used to it.

Coin toss. Who knew General Patraeus was short?

I didn’t have a lot of interest in the actual game. I watched until it looked like Pittsburgh had put it away, then fell asleep. I half heard the 100 yard runback with my eyes closed and head on a pillow on the sofa.

I did wake up for the exciting conclusion.

One of the best parts of the day was reading Ana Marie Cox (the original Wonkette) on Twitter. Here’s a sample.

A Husky/Beagle mix playing in #puppybowl. That must have been one hell of a blind date.

Will @animalplanet be sued by FCC for showing pussy during halftime of the #puppybowl?

Griffey totally railroaded out of #puppybowl!!! Nipping is the opposite of “un-puppylike behavior”!

Apparently David Patraeus overseeing superbowl coin toss but not the Iraq elections

Are NFL coaches’ headsets the only form of technology that gets *larger* as it improves?

I don’t even really “get” football but even I understand that a 100-yard interception return is bad. Maybe the Cards are McCain after all.

This “Born to Run” song is kind of catchy! I think it could be a hit!

Cheering for the Cards reminds me of how being a Democrat used to feel.

Pitchers and catchers only a few weeks away!