Europe Makes Space History as Probe Lands on Comet

Europe Makes Space History as Probe Lands on Comet
Image credit: Reuters | ESA | Rosetta | Philae | Civa
Rosetta's lander Philae of its mothership shortly after separation and with about 10 m between the two probes.

Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox

Stay informed and join our daily newsletter now!
2 min read
This story originally appeared on Reuters

The European Space Agency (ESA) landed a probe on a comet on Wednesday, a first in space exploration and the climax of a decade-long mission to get samples from what are the remnants of the birth of Earth's solar system.

The box-shaped 100-kg (220-pound) lander, named Philae, touched down on schedule at about 1600 GMT after a seven-hour descent from spacecraft Rosetta around half a billion kilometers (300 million miles) from Earth.

Scientists hope that samples from the surface of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko will help show how planets and life are created as the rock and ice that make up the comet preserve organic molecules like a time-capsule.

Comets come from the formation of Earth's 4.6-billion-year-old solar system. Scientists believe they may have brought much of the water in Earth's oceans.

"We are ready to make science fiction a science fact," ESA director of human spaceflight and operations, Thomas Reiter, said at the European Space Operations Center in Germany before the landing.

Rosetta reached the comet, a roughly 3-by-5 km rock discovered in 1969, in August after a journey of 6.4 billion km that took 10 years, five months and four days - a mission that cost close to 1.4 billion euros ($1.8 billion).

Rosetta is the first spacecraft to orbit a comet rather than just flying past to take pictures.

Wednesday's launch went ahead despite a problem with the thruster that meant the probe had to rely mainly on its harpoons to stop it bouncing back from the comet's surface.

The three-legged lander had to be released at exactly the right time and speed because it cannot be controlled on its descent. On its way down, Philae gathered data and images, which were relayed back to Earth.

Engineers designed the lander not knowing what type of terrain they would find on the comet's surface. Rosetta has been taking pictures of the comet and collecting samples from its atmosphere as it approaches the sun, showing it is not as smooth as initially hoped, making landing more tricky.

The surface is also more dusty than expected, limiting light needed to charge its solar panels and power its instruments once its batteries run out after two and a half days.

(Additional reporting by Irene Klotz in Cape Canaveral, Fla; Editing by Louise Ireland)

More from Entrepreneur
Entrepreneur Select: A Fund For Entrepreneurs, By Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs require more than just money, which is why we aim to empower you, as well as act as a catalyst for value creation.

Entrepreneur Insider members enjoy exclusive access to business resources for just $5/mo:
  • Premium articles, videos, and webinars
  • An ad-free experience
  • A weekly newsletter
  • Bonus: A FREE 1-year Entrepreneur magazine subscription delivered directly to you
Make sure you’re covered for physical injuries or property damage that occur at work by
  • Providing us with basic information about your business
  • Verifying details about your business with one of our specialists
  • Speaking with an agent who is specifically suited to insure your business

Latest on Entrepreneur