November 12, 2014 | David F. Coppedge

Rosetta's Philae: ESA Lands Probe on Comet

Another space first: the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission landed its Philae probe on a comet this morning, but will it stick?

The claps and hugs that accompany successful space missions were apparent this morning—along with Twitter storms this time—as the Philae lander sent telemetry to the Rosetta orbiter from the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.  But furrowed brows soon took over when doubts arose that the lander’s harpoons had fired, indicating that the craft was not firmly attached to the surface of the low-gravity object.  Does this make the craft’s position unstable, in danger of flying off the comet into space?  The ESA team, which succeeded ten years ago sending the Huygens probe down to the surface of Titan, is working hard to figure out what to do.

Speeches before and after the touchdown focused primarily on the engineering achievement this represents, but a few speakers spun the occasion into visions about how the mission will help mankind understand the origin of the Earth and life.

Initial telemetry suggests that the surface of the comet is soft and fluffy.  Watch for an update after more is learned about the condition of the lander, and if any pictures come in.

The dream of space exploration is alive, and the designers and engineers of Rosetta and Philae are alive, but the comet is not.  Let’s celebrate a great achievement without messing it up with evolutionary divination.  Comets do not belong to the Darwin Party.


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